Thursday, December 22, 2016

What We Have to Gain

Estimated Time to Read this Post: 15-20 minutes

This post contains mention of Donald Trump, fascism, global politics, and revolution.


In my college architecture class, while studying the various models for temples in ancient Greece, I noticed something confusing: archaeological history shows that, in reality, not a single temple was built according to these ideal models.

On inspection, it was not that often something was off. It’s that there was always something off. A slanted foundation. A repaired decoration. An off-center pathway. A short pillar. Too-narrow hallways. (Definite health code violations, in some cases.)

There was always a gap between ideal and reality. Always. Nothing ever went according to plan even when they tried their hardest to match their ideal. And it is this gap, this failure, that people all the way from 300 B.C.E. to today seek to ignore and evade at all costs. No Greek was ever in total control of the temple. No human is ever in control of anything. “Lack of control” is a nightmarish fear; yet, this is a universal reality. We seek to escape this anarchic truth with our institutions, governments, systems, and slowly forget that we are only human beings who can only create human things.

This gap between the ideals we’ve been sold—that our systems can create a just world—and the reality—no, no they cannot—has always been large. This gap has grown wider in the past century. And in the last month, it has swallowed millions more of us who live in the United States of America. In this gap, we now look up and see the horror of the political system we live in and benefit from.

This gap we are now in (fascism, militarization, genocide) is foundational to our political systems. It created the United States of America. It returns in cycles. Most of us have “seen” this gap for all our lives but did little to end it. We are not new to the gap. Nor have we been in it the longest, or the deepest. This knowledge that our government lacks a moral arc, that it has the absolute power to do what it wishes to us without consequence, is an old fear, felt by billions. Now, it’s our turn to feel it.

Now we have Donald Trump, Putin, the rise of global fascism, and the true fear of World War Three and a nuclear arms race. The White House cabinet will once again be filled with the most morally bankrupt, satanic, shrewd, and (worst of all) powerful people in this country. The majorities in both houses of Congress support Trump. According to the ideal of the United States that we have been sold, these despots can and should be able do what they want to us and to the world. A handful of people, ordering thousands to control millions with the threat of guns. Over the last month, millions of us have entered this gap between the ideal (that the Constitution ensures a benevolent government) and the long-felt reality of our systems (oppression, imperialism, and tyranny).

Many politicians are determined to keep us, us who are new to the gap, from realizing we live in this gap. They say we should just wait and suffer it through, don’t worry because most of us will come out in four years (but only us newcomers, no one else). We are now starting to understand the true anarchic reality of everyday life. The only order present in society has always been cultural, ideological. The fact that a single stop sign, a slab of metal, can make a car stop even though the driver knows they drive in an empty plot of land, which they know is empty, which they can see under the noon sun is empty, is power. Control of the mind with false ideals ensures control over reality.

The enforcers of this mind-control are people with handcuffs, sirens, and guns. The threat of them, the love for them.  Our politicians had the ability to say that they were elected by “us,” that they were acting upon moral principles. This false sense of democracy placated most of us into silence for decades.

Now, we realize (beyond an intellectual level) that this ideal never existed. We feel it. The enforcers are people with guns. Our politicians and CEOs order these enforcers to act. This is a simple truth. This has always been the truth. There is no moral arc to the universe or to humanity. 

We all want a revolution but we are too scared to be revolutionary.

No moral arc is going to bend the politicians and CEOs. You and I are just here, and all we have to do is wait to die. That has always been the truth. Now that we do not believe what the powerful tell us, we have to decide for ourselves how we choose to live.

And I also mean that on a practical level. How do we choose to interact with one another? How do we choose to act every day, to move in this world? Do we choose to laugh with others? To care for others? To love others? To explore life and its many facets? To meet others and enjoy moments for what they are: fleeting? Do we want to live fully and truthfully? By "truthfully", I don't mean societal truths. I mean deeper truths - about our humanity, our existence, and understanding our connection to this world.

Learning to live fully involves laughing, studying, working, partying, inventing, baking cakes, taking out the trash, wiping each other's tears, finding joy, celebration, and true happiness. And also, living fully and truthfully is not just a mental state. It is a societal condition. I'm here to talk about when living gets hard. When barriers are placed preventing us from living fully and truthfully.

How do I choose to live? That fundamental question has haunted people for all of human history. Now, is at the forefront of my mind and the minds of many others.

How do I choose to live? Our systems of governance are antithetical to many of our answers to this question. In a world that's about to get even harder to survive in, we demand to be able to live fully.

Now that we see the disordered reality of our political system, now that we see that the government is always only comprised of simple humans, we cannot pretend we are powerless. We can create a society that adheres to our desires from life; we are equally human as the politicians, the CEOs, the police, the military.

In Learning to Die in the Anthropocene, Roy Scranton argues that due to the upcoming apocalypse, we must learn how to die as a society. (Roy Scranton is a white American man, it’s his ideas, don’t make me out to be the “radical” one!) I would suggest that you read this book were it not for the fact that his proposed solution is to treasure and preserve “all” the knowledge of past societies. This ideal seems nice, but remember: the gap. In reality, this would only ensure a preservation of Western societies’ philosophies because there is an academic bias towards preserving European writings. (And I don’t know about you, but I’d rather not follow the same political ideologies that got us here in the first place.)

Our systems in the United States were never, ever moral. They are rooted in the enslavement of Africans and the genocide of Native peoples. Our systems run on the capitalist and imperialist control of Latin American “banana republics,” forcing millions into poverty, starvation, and death. The prison system is a new form of slavery. There are few who can look at an honest history of the United States and not feel an ounce of pain and rage. Those who can, I do not try to interact with.

How do I choose to live? According to Scranton, we must learn to die and rebuild. We must start from scratch and think about how we truly want to be treated and to live with one another, and what we want reflected in the way we treat ourselves and one another.

Now, I do not talk about hope. Learning to live fully and truthfully doesn't require hope. Even more so, I reject hope, simply because it is the truth. There is no moral arc to the world, it’s just a bunch of us fucking around until we die. Even beyond that, revolutions are rarely built on hope (sorry, Star Wars). Organizing is rarely rooted in hope. One does not care for oneself or another because they have “hope” of safety; caring is a natural act, rooted in love, not hope. I protect myself and my loved ones not because I think I will be able to fight off attackers. I protect because I must.

Hope is fickle, easily-destroyable and easily-controllable. It is unstable, not the path of peace and joy. It is exhausting to hope all the time, and we humans deserve to be able to succumb to despair. Yet, even as we despair, we can still act if our politics cast hope aside.

When I talk about rejecting hope, I do not mean rejecting life, giving up, or refusing to feel and celebrate our victories. I do not mean that we must stop our fight for liberation. I mean that we must not depend on victory in order to act, for our reward lies in action, and the people we meet, and the experiences we have.

Hope ignores, footnotes, and glosses over the ever-present gap between ideal and reality. In reality, we will never live in a “just” world. It is simply impossible. Sure, we can “hope” for one, but honestly? Harm and violence will always occur our society. There has to be a better way of thinking about life. Waiting for a “just world” is a task for fools.

The thirst of hope-based revolutions has ensured that the people deepest in this gap stay ignored and silenced.  Hope is impatient, demanding of results. Hope causes movements to be rushed, to declare victory when not everyone is free. It causes revolutions to declare failure when its people succumb to burn-out and despair because Hope is oh-so-fickle and fragile. Hope blinds people to reality and the rule of anarchy: victory will never be achieved.

I do not sympathize well with those who believe we could have avoided this with an election. I remember, in high school, my teacher told me that World War Three is certain to occur in my lifetime, if not in hers. It was the reality of climate change. Our society—with its borders and hatred, its racism and sexism, its capitalism and imperialism—does not allow humans to take care of each other in times of global crisis. There is nothing “natural” about homelessness in human societies with abundant housing. Nothing “natural” about the current wealth distribution. Is this how we choose to live and to interact with one another? This is not a truthful way to live. This is what we have to rethink.

How do I choose to live?

Here we are now, in an era of global fascism sparked largely by a Western hatred of Syrian and Muslim refugees. Our current political and economic framework does not allow us to take care of ourselves and one another, despite having the food, water, land, and resources to do so. To change this, we must, in Roy Scranton’s assessment, die as a society. What will that entail?

It will entail destruction and creation. Destruction in one hand, creation with the other, from the mind’s thoughts to the world’s political systems. We are not helpless. Wanting to live fully and truthfully, taking care of ourselves and of one another, are natural instincts. From the smallest things to the largest, we have to destroy all structures that keeps us from doing this.

And we need courage. We need to act in spite of our fear.

We must replace all in the USA that is not rooted in love for ourselves, each other, for humanity, and for this world. Reject false borders that keep humans from their ancient migratory rights. Reject capitalism, which self-admits to be based in exploitative selfishness (and thus, preserves, nurtures, and spreads selfishness, making us believe that material greed is our essential self). Reject the idea that the only people we are obligated to take care of is our four-person nuclear “ideal” family, spouse and children, parents and siblings. Build community and connections with new people.

Reject obedience to human ideals. Defend ourselves, and help others defend themselves, as necessary. Reject worshipping “visionaries” and “leaders”. We cannot make ideals out of humans, not in our minds nor in our societal customs. We cannot follow the footsteps of flawed people that we admire; we must do what they attempted to do: live fully and truthfully. We can find peace and joy in this constant act.

It will entail creation. New ways of spreading resources such as food, water, and shelter. New systems of taking care of one another, systems that help us all enjoy life and let others enjoy life how they choose to. We will have to protect and nurture these systems from those who wish to destroy it, or exploit it (thank the Good Lord Republican Jesus that our government still gives us the right to self-defense through the 2nd amendment of the united states of america). We must realize that when we push away someone who has their fingers around our throat, any harm that occurs to them is not equivalent - in any way - to the harm they do to us.

It will entail creation of thought. We will have to learn everything they do not want us to learn about self-empowerment, community organizing, and self-reliance. We will have to read books and articles about learning how to organize our own communities and how to combat prisons, the prison-industrial complex, anti-Blackness in non-Black communities of color, transphobia, Islamophobia, xenophobia, classism—so much more (don't worry, more links coming soon! If you know of any good resources about understanding various systems of oppression, please post a comment on this blog post). We will also have to learn how to do various tasks needed to take care of ourselves and one another: how to cook, how to listen, how to facilitate meetings, how to heal ourselves and others. How to be maintainers of our own communities, and how to justly compensate the labor of maintainers. How to make sure that women and femme people are not doing all of the maintaining.

We will have to learn how to use the Internet for its full potential, learn how to use this global connection for power-building and solidarity on the ground, like what is happening at #NoDAPL, a fight which continues.

When we organize, we will fuck up. I will fuck up. You will fuck up. Others will fuck up. Harm will happen, and we have to learn how to heal and keep going. We will never reach the ideal - so let us figure out how to deal with reality.

We must learn to realize the large impact of small things. That the world's greatest plans can be overturned by small things. That while we, as individuals, cannot do big things, we can do small things. And we must use that knowledge to understand the power we each have to affect change. By small things, I mean, for example, the impact of not capitalizing “united states of america.” Three small letters, a few pixels on a screen, was probably enough to unsettle hundreds of readers. It will also probably garner me a few death threats. It might change my life and the lives of others. Three small letters.

By small things, I also mean thoughts. Remembering to always ask ourselves, “Am I doing this out of love?” Thoughts govern reality.

What do we have to gain? A great deal. A more fundamental realization of what it means to be human and to interact with one another. The peace and joy that comes from a life dedicated to action instead of unrealistic hope. Living and laughing in the beautiful microcosms of Truth and Fullness that exist in many activist spaces.

And yes, if audience members are picking up on this, I am drawing much of this theory from the Bhagavad Gita. Maybe Roy Scranton is onto something when he advocates for a look backwards, a relearning of ancient histories and societies so we can learn from their mistakes and do better. (To pop the bubble of idealism (as is always necessary), the Gita is a flawed text that advocates for an “ideal” non-oppressive caste system that, in reality, was always - and continues to be - tyrannical - sorry, Hindu nationalists.)

Predicting the rise of fascism on Twitter has done nothing to stop it. Now, we build. Look around you. Find local activist groups and make sure they are good ones. Ask, “Who does this group center? Who attends these groups?” Unless there is a concrete reason, be wary if the group consists of only white and light-skinned people. Find another.

And remember that we take care of ourselves and each other in many ways. Love can be found in laughing at a neighbor’s joke and also in sheltering them from immigration police if required. Do both, and more.

.As Pablo Iglesias says in “The Left Can Win,”

C├ęsar Rendueles, a very smart guy, says most people are against capitalism, and they don’t know it. Most people defend feminism and they haven’t read Judith Butler or Simone de Beauvoir. Whenever you see a father doing the dishes or playing with his daughter, or a grandfather teaching his grandkid to share his toys, there is more social transformation in that than in all the red flags you can bring to a demonstration.”

Yes, we will suffer. Are we not suffering already? We can find joy amongst ourselves. Ignore hope. We don’t need it. What we have is action.

Radical love trumps radical hate. Not through hope, but through the chain-breaking actions stemming from an inextinguishable thought—I want to live a full and truthful life—and the consequential question: How do I choose to live?

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