National Day of Mourning

“Silence is a weapon. Violence is the message. Take the time to listen.” – Silence is a Weapon by Blackfire

“I won’t beg permission to walk the land they claim to own, and I won’t pay no fucker to gain access to the stones. The rich have stolen and buy and sell our earth, but it belongs to no one or to all by right of birth.” – Take Back the Land by Oi Polloi

“This boundless epoch we’ve bestowed upon your savage, empty lands; well of course mistakes were made! But as far as human progress goes welcome to a slightly higher plane of innovation and opportunity for your trampled communities.” – Comply/Resist by Propagandhi

Thanksgiving brings something out in me. I’m certainly an American, both  by birth and dint of the inexorable pull of an identity born of television, automobiles and starch. These weren’t things that I was born to like. I got inculcated to this cult early by way of a lack of alternatives. There’s nothing else. You binge on T.V. because there’s nothing else to do. You binge on white flour because it’s the easiest thing to eat when wrongness is punching you in the brain. You drive because the other options take too long (if you’re lucky enough to be able to afford a car). These things aren’t really anyone’s fault. Or maybe they’re everyone’s fault. 

Our imaginary realm gets caught up in the indigenous past. Some kids play the cowboy and some of them play the Indian. One side kills what the other represents. Either a past we can scarcely touch or the force that chops it up and recycles it into the present.

I wonder why slaves and slave patrollers aren’t a childhood game. It’s not as though there’s a significant difference in time between the two nightmares. It took the technological innovation of railway travel to effectively subdue the indigenous inhabitants of the American West and the Civil War provided the impetus for the laying of track. Maybe it’s just the tastelessness of the imaginary killing of people descended from one group and an acceptance of the fact that the other has been swept from our field of view. 

This is not at all to say that inigenous Americans were effectively killed off. Every holocaust has its survivors. But rather that for many of us they were turned invisible and hidden from view, dubiously celebrated as the grievously offensive mascots of sports teams. 

My memory is terrible. There was a time when this was not the case. I don’t think there’s anything to be done about this. I’m not going to take one of the modern snake oils that promise cognitive improvement. I think I just need to accept that the events of the past and information flowing from them will be muddled as I progress through life. An outcome of this is that I’ve read a great many books and I can’t match the content to the title. This prevents me from being able to cite much of anything. 

I recall a book, and perhaps it was The Many Headed Hydra by Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker, in which the assertion is made that as much as the colonization of and military campaigns against the indigenous peoples of this continent was a land grab, it was also a foreclosure of the imagination of Europeans. That there was an implicit threat in the existence of a society that was relatively free of the rigid hierarchies and backbreaking labor regime of colonial existence.

It is a fact that early European settlers of the Americas ran away from their own society, just as slaves ran away from the misery of servitude. At least for a time there was an exterior to all of this. They could fall on their knees and plead to be accepted into the already embattled tribes forced into retreat. Sometimes they fought alongside one another, holding back the encroachment of everything that white society was pregnant with.

Unfortunately these guerilla campaigns didn’t push back the colonizers, though they slowed them. There was an incessant importation Europeans to throw into the frontier landscape as wedges to pry apart territory. These people had only to survive to destroy.

I am reminded of reading a history of my family and being impressed by the fact that one of my forebears had been scalped in what I now understand as an act of revenge. Somehow he survived. I wonder what would have become of me had he died. Would I have been spared the dubious privilege of consciousness?

I can’t really speak adequately to this as a historical process. I know about some of it, but not nearly enough to provide an accurate accounting. All I can really say is that a lot of indigenous people died so that imported whites could have survivably shitty lives.

There is an essay by Christopher Hitchens, nearly thirty years old, in which he decries the fact that some of his academic friends had made efforts to engage with the holocaust that followed European arrival in the ‘New World’. It was all progress for him. All of human history pointing towards some glorious future that seems ever more distant. No apologies for the past. Any horrors were necessary bumps in the road. In fact, indigeneity everywhere was worthy of extermination by the enlightened killers that uprooted it, whether it occurred in Europe, in what is now India, or in the Americas. 

Certainty must be lovely. It must be nice to feel so smug. But now he’s dead and his critique is barely remembered except as a poorly stated argument that was lazily written and glossed over the complexity of history, all for a chance to shit on people with the capacity to experience a wider range of emotions. Whatever paradise he claims was bequeathed by the army of murderers set upon the continent has not been realized.

The blessings of a self-congratulatory modernity enforced from Argentina to the Arctic seem dubious when we consider the possibilities of something else that could have arisen given time and the alleviation of waves of violence. When we think of the missile silos that still dot the landscape; when we watch the next great extinction relegate to the dustbin of history all the plants, animals, fungi and microorganisms that were the partners of humans more concerned with a life that made sense than with towering bronze or marble sculptures celebrating war crimes.  

In my quest for internet distraction I happen across a great diversity of stupid things. Jordan Peterson is one of them. I find it endlessly amusing that this proselytizer of unapologetic domination as a bedrock of modern life got himself addicted to benzos (I think k-pins, not that it matters) and spent three months in rehab trying to kick it, followed by a trip to Russia to try and deal with the protracted withdrawal that allegedly involved akathisia. As someone who has experienced this I have read about the topic. I recall distinctly a psychiatrist who stated that he ‘would not wish it on his worst enemy’. Thats generous. I do.

That a pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps intellectualizer of masculinity had to throw himself on the helping industry to kick a drug that most of us just knuckle down and abstain from, followed by an international journey to address a problem that most of us who have been on antipsychotics suffer through just tickles me pink. 

His is the kind of cheap and boring intellectualism that provides internet dickheads with unthinking arguments against gender equality, climate justice and the idea that trans people deserve to get treated with a modicum of respect. His success is predicated on a heaping pile of dummies who can’t handle the sad truth that history has taken the shittiest path into the future, that it made us all assholes, and will likely kill us. He has his share of sycophants but thankfully they’re all bad writers and obvious partisans. 

I think I would take less pleasure in his suffering if it was a point of departure towards the road to repentance. Had he taken to his Youtube channel and said something to the effect of, “So hey everybody. All this time I’ve been pimping myself as a champion of the virtue of men subordinating women  and offering a veneer of reason to shitting on trans people, I’ve also become really anxious. I’m more sensitive than I thought. All this pushback against me, it’s understandable, and I’ve begun to realize that maybe I really am a shithead. I can’t figure out how to apologize adequately for my poorly considered statements that likely contributed to the critical mass of cruelty in our society. As for my opposition to identity politics, I see how I have no grounds from which to criticize these positions. There really is institutionalized racism. There really has been a historical visitation of trauma upon all human beings, but those who have suffered most are not of western European extraction. And the global warming thing, well that was just criminal. I can’t handle who I’ve been and who I am but to jump off of the train I myself set in motion will open me up to bitter reprisal by people who formerly considered me a mentor. And I appear so weak- self aggrandizing self-help shit is my whole schtick and I’m a wreck, shaking in the fetal position as I withdraw from the soft cloud of high dose benzo addiction. It’s all come crashing down. Could someone help me? Love me? Make me whole?”  

But people who are brands tend not to have these revelatory moments. Remorse is something that gets mentioned in a tweet before someone fades into obscurity. While I understand the assertion that most of the people who get tarred and feathered in the public square have already gotten more air-time than they deserve, I think it might be just that moment that needs to be front and center. For one, sincere remorse is agonizing, so if you’re looking for justice an extended treatment of the evolution of a monster would probably provide emotional satisfaction. As well, it serves as a warning. To watch someone’s shredded soul bleed out from the wounds of a public accounting might bring the costs of misogynist violence and toxic masculinity into starker relief. 

While the destruction of the culturally diverse but interdependent continent we live upon reached a number of narrative peaks as Spaniards, Frenchmen and the unfortunate denizens of England, Ireland and Scotland moved Westward, all this serves to drive home a point that many miss. The waves of disease that originated from these early arrivals denuded the Eastern Seaboard of many of its indigenous people, a pestilence that penetrated the continent much more quickly than the human beings themselves. From the South it was apparently pigs that carried zoonotic illness through the rain forests. The virgin wilderness confronted by early chroniclers of the continent was merely a landscape denied its traditional stewards. Check out Charles C. Mann’s 1491 for a more detailed accounting of how this played out. 

This is to say that the ridiculous and sarcastic claim that morons on Twitter launch at people who would do something so radical as express sadness over the loss of a diversity of worlds is both wildly unimaginative and momentously boring. The pat and condescending response is something to the effect of “Why should you feel sad about the destruction of a society that offered plants instead of medicine, swidden instead of plows, and lengthy low intensity conflicts instead of orderly wars of annihilation?” Aside from the hundreds of millions of corpses that proponents of this throw-away argument gloss over there is also a hypocrisy and ignorance that helps to underscore the disingenuousness of the position.

I think there is a missing of the point, or a deliberate blindness to it, by these champions of Western supremacy. They forget (or ignore) the waves of colonization that swept over Europe itself. From the Roman Legion and the systems of governance and division left in their stead, all the indigeneity on the continent was set ablaze. In the wake of this early conquest various campaigns of terror rolled across the land, from the witch burnings that followed on the heels of the crisis of feudalism to the conquest of Ireland. All the peasant wars launched upon the undeserving nobles were met with a culling to leave nothing in the imaginations of the losing side but the fantastical visitations of violence waiting in the wings. And when human progress demanded that the people be divorced from the land there was the Bloody Legislation that offered mutilation, hanging and slavery to the dispossessed.

Perhaps this is the thing that should be kept in mind by white people on this stupid holiday: In our distant past there lies a nightmare, one that we’re scarcely aware of. We have acted as one of the most significant vectors of violence on the planet and have also been on the receiving end. Just as our ancestors cleansed the world of lives that did not adequately fit into the designs of early capitalism, these human ploughshares were hammered into swords by wars of domination launched by Rome, then by feudal lords, then by the states of the early bourgeoisie.

The modern form of death is suicide. It gets referred to as ‘death by despair’ in some circles and doesn’t limit itself to hanging from a rope or firing a bullet into one’s brain, but also encompasses drug overdoses and the numerous ways that alcohol can kill a person. This is born out statistically. I have no reason to judge those who die in this way. I’ve thought about it all plenty of times. All the bitter disappointment, punishing boredom and terrible fear that many of us experience is somewhat obvious in its impact on these statistics.

But we neglect a consideration of the speculative fictions that assail us. Had it not been for the creeping horror of early states and the cosmologies that they erased with swift and brutal violence, would we somehow experience a world that made sense? Would we be people with a point, living in a world of spiritual significance? What technologies would have developed in a world not subordinated to the mundane horror of dollar stores and drive-thrus? What does an indigenous spaceship look like? What would a druidic neurosurgery entail? What machines could have arisen from the plurality of societies were they somehow spared their fates in the thresher of our clown idiot dingbat society? 

I don’t mean to gloss over the other suicide epidemics in our world. While white men have been killing themselves at a startling pace, it is the communities of indigenous people that have seen the greatest increases in death by suicide and this makes quite a bit of sense. (I suppose, thought I have not asked) that at every turn they are faced with the reminders of a world that might have made room for them; watch the sacred drown in a sea of profanity; and see a legacy of violence in a past that is not so distant. They likely know something has been taken and will continue to be taken by a world that doesn’t give a single shit about them except perhaps as names for grade schools. 

I remember a car ride with my father in the not-so-distant past. We were talking about my cousin who had recently overdosed in the bathroom of a retail store. He expressed his lack of understanding. He expressed what a tragedy it was.

I didn’t understand and I said so. How is one surprised that a pain killer is so attractive? We’re all in pain. How is it tragic? He died doing what he loved. Why do we applaud those who can suffer well and find ourselves baffled by those who don’t? Heroin was perhaps the one thing that protected him from meaninglessness. He sank into the warmth of deliverance, one of the easiest ways to leave this world. This isn’t a thing to mourn but a set of ethics to question. Are we brave enough to allow people to leave on their own terms, and why don’t we fight for them when they’re still alive? This earth is a suicide machine that pills and therapists and self-help books can do almost nothing to hinder. 

Happy Thanksgiving!

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