The Chairman Mao Exhibit at Jurassic Park

I recall an event that occurred almost twenty years ago, in which Harry Cleaver, a notable figure in autonomist Marxism, called New York ‘the land of dinosaurs’. What he meant was that leftist currents that had died out years ago were still viable here. I don’t think anyone could foresee that the internet would provide a Jurassic Park for so many unfortunate ideologies.

I am used to Saturday travel taking me past two dinosaur exhibits. On the North side of the road there has been an ongoing gathering in support of the Trumpian flavor of right wing idiocy. On the South side is a peace and justice rally for most things vaguely to the left. The lefties have a better spot, being positioned next to a bagel store, which provides both bagels and a toilet. I don’t know where the Trumpists go to the bathroom. In each other’s mouths?

The evolution of this dynamic is unclear to me, but the peace and justice folks have been around longer. It is very likely the case that the Trump people showed up to hate them from across the street.

The number of people in attendance varies, and the Trump people seem to have run out of steam following his defeat in the 2020 election. I can blame them for a great many things, but a lack of desire to wave signs at a generally uninterested public isn’t one of them. Honestly, I miss them. It’s nice to have people to throw garbage at. The vehicle gets cleaner and, hopefully, they get just a tiny bit more demoralized and paranoid.

There was a new phenomenon on the road this week. A group of people were tabling outside of the post office and they had a number of confusing banners. One said ‘Crush the Green New Deal’, another said ‘Don’t Blame Russia and China’, and the most perplexing one advocated for the construction of new nuclear power plants. And then I saw, in the lower right hand corner of a banner, that they were associated with Lyndon Larouche. One of the more confusing things about this is that Lyndon Larouche is dead.

Someone being dead doesn’t necessarily mean that the politics they espouse die with them. People call themselves Marxists, Trotskyists, Maoists, Leninists… on and on and on. Christian is a thing, so let’s throw that in there too. I’ve recently begun to engage with Facebook again, and in a profound error of reasoning, joined the ‘Marxists Discussion Group’, and it is shockingly and alarmingly stupid.

My bad, really. I should have considered the name more closely, though it’s possible to misread it no matter what. Instead of an engagement with the thought and writings of Marx, it is an engagement with the thought and writings of people who identify as Marxists, and we’re not talking about contemporary theorists, who may or may not be dumb. We’re talking about the unsavory characters, like Stalin, Mao, Lenin and so on.

Participants have very weird questions which almost always devolve into arguments about the merits of autocratic socialist regimes. Someone will begin a thread by asking something painfully stupid, like ‘In a country where commodities are abundant is it necessary to have a dictatorship of the proletariat?’ (which is like asking what the right saddle for a pegasus is, but with more violence implied) which will somehow devolve even further into an argument about whether the deaths attributed to Stalin are propaganda or not. This is a baffling argument. If Hitler only killed half of the people attributed to the holocaust it doesn’t really change anything, except people will know with certainty that you are dangerous and should not be asked to take care of their pets when they go away for the weekend.

Initially I was just trolling, and then I realized that most of these people were impervious to mockery, which they might have trained for or they might just naturally be gifted with. Either way, lucky them. Even if the fantasy you live in involves eating white fish and making people dig their own graves, it still provides you with scaffolding for your internal world.

I see parallels between this and the Larouchians on the side of the road.

Lyndon Larouche was a fucking lunatic. And a predator. I accuse people of rank madness all the time so maybe it loses its impact, but really, I’m not crying wolf. With any cult leader it’s hard to separate out beliefs expressed that allow them to maintain power and beliefs expressed that were actual beliefs. If you’ve seen Wild, Wild Country his movement works along the same lines except without any promise of spiritual ascendance. Followers would turn over all of their money to the organization, be encouraged to engage in campaigns of harassment and direct violence against political opponents, and would undergo ‘therapy’ with Larouche intended to ‘destroy their egos’ (which always seems to be a theft- the cult leader holds onto the ego, no matter how shattered).

As well, there were always shadowy enemies waiting to kill Larouche, which provides a convenient way of creating a group identity. If the Queen of England (who is an international drug kingpin) is trying to have your leader assassinated then shit, you must be on to something.

This is not to say that assassinations of figures on the left weren’t occurring at the time, but rather that it’s relatively implausible that Henry Kissinger, Queen Elizabeth, the Communist Party USA and Nelson Rockefeller were the ones planning the assassination. Grand conspiracies are attractive to people who really want to believe something and don’t care if that thing is stupid.

The current iteration of the movement, operating mostly out of a political action committee, somehow survived the death of Larouche at the regrettably old age of 97, and has pulled hard right. They promulgate the common right wing conspiracies regarding election fraud in the 2020 election, as well as hewing to the line that Black Lives Matter and Antifa activists infiltrated and led the Capitol Riot on January 6, 2020. This is an odd place for an organization that began in the New Left of the 1960’s to end up, but then again, maybe not. They appear to mostly parasitize existing movements, drawing in the most deluded and sucking money out of them.

Their PAC is fascinating, and if you go to their website you can watch a woman who looks like Droopy Dog at an arraignment for possession of child pornography talk about pretty much the same shit that you can hear if you watch Tucker Carlson. But don’t click on their ‘contact’ link, because they download a file onto your computer. Fucking creeps.

Do I have a point to make? Perhaps it’s just that people are desperate for some kind of all-encompassing ideology that prescribes a concrete plan of action that will provide them with a path out of a present that is confusing and scary. Also, maybe it’s the case that people that are hateful are easily enlisted in histories that justify violence on a massive scale. Or, maybe it’s that people are dumb and they feel relieved when someone tells them what to do.

Whatever the case, dinosaurs roam the political landscape.

Cannabis and ‘The Fear’

For a long time I did no drugs, and then for no particular reason I started smoking weed and didn’t stop for about seven years. A family could have built a comfortable and aromatic house with the amount of weed I smoked.

At a certain point I developed a reaction to the substance that enthusiasts call “The Fear”. This is a sense of dread particular to cannabis smoking, in which a person is plagued by anxiety and terror. For me it has two distinct elements.

The first is that I become convinced that I have not so much gotten high as I have inaugurated an episode of drug induced psychosis that will persist for years. Cannabis people don’t usually like to hear that their drug can, for some, have serious mental health effects, but in a year and a half of working as a patient advocate at a large mental hospital I met several people who attributed their experience of psychosis to their first encounter with cannabis.

Mental health crises are many splendored things. It’s hard to get to the root of precipitating causes, but I think it’s important to center the sufferers experience. So, if they feel that smoking weed set the wheels in motion of the ruination of their life, it’s callous and uninteresting to ignore their assessment.

The second of these elements, and perhaps this is restricted to my experience, consists of a deep fear that my body will begin to operate autonomously of my will, and that it will do things that I abhor. It will become violent and I’ll be in the viewing room just watching a terrible thing happen and that this will ultimately be my fault.

Neither of these ever come to pass, but it’s a remarkably bad time.

Despite this, whenever I’m in too much proximity, I decide that all prior experience isn’t necessarily all future experience, which is a belief that is at once true and stupid. My efforts to dunk basketballs from over the rim have all ended in failure, and while some quirk of gravity might let me succeed at it tomorrow it’s not likely to happen.

All of this is to say that I was around a lot of cannabis in a permissive environment recently and I tried, once again, to dunk that ball. Predictably, I got paralyzed by anxiety, and in this state of anxiety I had an interesting reconciliation with cannabis.

One of the things I like about the drug is that I have a lot of ideas while under the influence. Some of them are stupid, some of them are interesting, and some are both stupid and interesting. Nonetheless, they seem cool.
I have been taking intranasal ketamine and esketamine for over a year. I have started narrating the experiences, in situ, and recording this narration. Originally I wanted to keep track of the sequence of different motifs and identify at which points did new stylizations of image emerge.

This has been a very striking instance of an attempt at measurement leading to a radical change in the phenomenon under consideration. My experiences very rapidly shifted from being rather dark and upsetting to being lucid and useful. As a drug person, this has been a validation of the ‘set and setting’ maxim. While the setting remains full of the sounds of typing, blood pressure cuffs inflating, and the rapid fire rapping of transcranial magnetic stimulation, the set is much different: I’m there to learn and I do.

So, in the middle of a panicked weed high I pulled myself towards paper and a pen and started writing. Not like I was creating a narrative, but in terms of putting all the odd thoughts on paper and fleshing them out. This did two wonderful things: It pulled me out of the punishing anxiety I had inflicted upon myself and it resulted in a bunch of neat ideas preserved for posterity.

But the most important realization was a clarification of the nature of cannabis as it relates to my brain.

I don’t like it anymore, which is a thing I always forget, and knowing myself, will always forget. But, the insertion of documentation into the experience moderates it. For me, cannabis has become a powerful but unpleasant psychedelic that I can consume with the knowledge that 1) I’m probably going to feel like shit and 2) that it’s extremely helpful in regard to creative difficulties.

In my weird conceptualization of drugs as distinct personages that express their agency in the gross folds of the human brain I think this establishes a respectful footing. It takes the drug from a flippant thing undertaken for pleasure (which it is for a great many people and that’s great) to a respectful experiencing of a novel intelligence.

Fullmetal Class War

I am a forty year old man here to tell you all about the political economy of an animated television program primarily marketed to adolescents. But my adolescence hasn’t ended in any significant way, so I’m perfect for this.

Since I’m neither Japanese nor a good researcher, there won’t be any sweeping discussions of a genre. What I know is that anime is a super popular form of storytelling largely adopted from weekly serialized stories called manga. I’m under the impression that the labor process involved in the production of either is completely insane, which may or may not be relevant to the rest of this post.

As a casual viewer, I don’t have a ton of generalizations that I can make about the medium. In terms of unifying themes, I’ve noticed a tendency to dwell on perseverance in the face of adversity; the characteristics of ethical leadership; and, above all things, friendship.

The friendship bit is my favorite, and it takes a number of forms.

For one, it is concerned with people’s ability to change. Not infrequently, a villain will make a sharp turn after an encounter with a protagonist and will begin questioning the experiences and desires that have drawn them into conflict. A few episodes later, they’ll do something surprising and out of character and end up best buds with the good guys.

Friendship also hinges on a character’s ability to persevere in the face of defeat. Circumstances that should very well defeat them are endured not because of an iron will but out of an iron love. Intense and deeply felt platonic relationships push heroes through despair, and if that’s not relevant to people surviving on service industry wages then I don’t know what is.

It’s not often that I see overtly political critiques playing out in the art form, but maybe I’m not looking hard enough. The most notable exception is Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood. Here’s a neat article regarding the program’s treatment of imperialism.

It’s a great story that deserves a wicked synopsis. I don’t know if I can pull that off.

The story takes place in Amestris, an expansionist nation ruled by a military dictatorship. This has been how things roll in Amestris for a long time- there’s no notable agitation occurring against the military government by its citizens.

The primary technology in this society is alchemy, which can reorganize matter into different shapes and compositions. There is a hard limit on this technology: Equivalent exchange. A person cannot make something out of nothing. If you have a brick you can change what the brick looks like, but you can’t make two bricks of the same size out of a single brick.

Alchemy has a single, towering taboo: Attempting to bring a dead person back to life.

While this science (and the characters insist that it is science, although it is almost indisputably magical) has tremendous potential for improving human life, it is largely utilized by the military government to wage expansionist wars, with alchemists serving as proxy weapons of mass destruction.

The chief protagonists (though there is a massive ensemble cast) are Edward and Alphonse Elric who, in the wake of the death of their mother, break alchemy’s chief taboo, initiating a gnostic experience in which they encounter an entity that claims to be, among other things, God. Edward loses his right arm and left leg in this exchange, while Alphonse loses his physical body altogether, with Edward anchoring his brother’s soul to a suit of armor.

The brothers commit to retrieving their bodies and set off in search of a philosopher’s stone, an item that allows for the violation of alchemy’s fundamental principle, equivalent exchange.

As a sofa Marxist, this term grabbed my attention. Capital’s early chapters deal with the problem of the exchange of commodities as a way of interrogating value in a capitalist economy. Marx problematizes exchange, offered as a ‘get out of jail free’ card into the present. Buy low, sell high is still a thing that’s bandied about as a natural law, but Marx ripped it apart in the latter half of the 19th century. If commodities are exchanged at their value, where does profit arise from? Price increases would lead to an unending inflationary spiral, so it can’t be the case that manipulations of price (at least in the long-term) would yield profit, and in the end, no capitalist would invest a dime without a chance to profit.

In response to this problematization, Marx asserts that profit does not arise from exchange (in the last instance), but instead from the production process. If a laborer works longer than the time that is socially necessary for his/her reproduction as a living thing in their society, the excess constitutes an unpaid transference of value that is realized (again, as a general tendency) by the capitalist as profit. Commodities are laden with expended, dead labor.

Late in the narrative arc of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, the heroes discover a frightening fact: The science they employ to harness the energy of tectonic activity beneath their feet (again, Marx) is not as powerful as it should be. Something is drawing off a portion of this energy, and that something is the primary villain, a shadowy man who has no desires outside of realizing his own ultimate and final ambition. This figure occupies the role of the capitalist on the stage of value theory. He utilizes the exertions of others to increase his own power.

The philosopher’s stone that the protagonists seek speaks to the parallels even further. After a great deal of searching, Edward and Alphonse discover that philosopher’s stones can only be created out of living human beings, and their ability to amplify the power (and productivity) of alchemy requires that these people be condensed into a physical object.

This is roughly analogous to the role of machinery in value theory. In the Marxist paradigm, machines accrete value- they are assembled from materials that are ossified life energy of human beings, which is employed in the production process to amplify the productivity of living laborers. The philosopher’s stone is the steam engine in a steam-punk world.

There is surely more to say on these points, but it is worth redirecting to the ultimate victory of the protagonists: They beat the bad guys, which is wonderful, and they do it by banding together in a diverse and internationalist cadre of friends who have been manipulated, conquered, traumatized and disfigured by the machinations of a government that is, clandestinely, run by monster-qua-capitalist.

Ultimately this leads to a political and technical innovation in the wake of their victory: Down with equivalent exchange. Up with the friendship economy.

In the final episode Alphonse holds up his hand, showing ten human fingers, and states that they’re done with equivalent exchange. If someone gives you ten, you’re to give them back eleven, because they’re a part of you. The fundamental ethic of the training he and his brother received is finally realized: “One is all, all is one”.

So, yeah, you basically don’t have to watch the show now. I’ve explained literally every important thing, and probably ruined your ability to appreciate the sword fights and monsters. You’re welcome.

Reconciliation?

I have no idea how to credit this appropriately, but this is an apropos image, accessed at: http://www.atasite.org/2013/04/19/we-are-winning-dont-forget-short-works-by-jean-gabriel-periot/we-are-winning-a/

I don’t have many friends I get to see in person anymore. This is a post-vaccination statement. It doesn’t have anything to do with the specter of death posed by COVID.

I know a lot of people who were very afraid of contracting the virus, and for good reason. I was too, but only because it would turn me into a vector. I wouldn’t say I have a complete disregard for my own life, but more a shoulder shrugging fatalism. I’ve got ways I’d prefer to die and ways I wouldn’t and I’m aware that I really won’t get much choice in the end. It’s life that worries me. This isn’t an anti-vaccination thing. It’s just an expression of an ethos.

There are a few people who I saw consistently. I’m related to several of them. This doesn’t make them count any less. So, lucky for me, I had consistent hang-out time through a year of isolation.

One of my closer and more consistent people is a guy some years younger than me. When you come out of a subculture that doesn’t exist anymore you awaken to a social world that doesn’t make sense. It’s like a poorly fitted shirt. I wonder if people formerly in gangs or cults feel the same way.

So, this younger person and I have a similar point of origin. Same scene, years apart, same politics, years apart. We speak similarly. Our humour works, a sarcastic outrage expressing doom. So we hang around and talk about politics, ethics, and how fun it is to watch a right-winger get pulped in a UFC bout.

While our politics align, they arise in different eras. I was around for the emergence, brief ascendance and sad defeat of the anarchism of the ‘alter-globalization’ movement. That stuff was ancient history by the time he got involved.

It is my strong impression that in the present the Democratic Socialists of America serve as a net for an unending leftist diaspora. It’s a catch-all. There are other organizations, but this one is consistently present, engages in some concrete political work, and isn’t hostile to anti-capitalist or anti-authoritarian positions. I’m sure it has the same problems inherent to any political scene, this being an inability to develop a coherent strategy to force change.

I’m pretty sure we’re past the idea that we’ll get a revolutionary movement that defines a future utopia. I would, very sincerely, welcome such a thing, but after 25 years of utter and embarrassing failure I am of the opinion that organizations can only provide a framework to allow the insurrectionary impulses of the present to explode from. Razing a city accomplishes at least as much as getting a socialist elected to a city council seat. If anyone reading feels the need to argue this point, I’m more than happy to. In fact, I’ll be excited to be wrong.

This friend engaged in organizing with a DSA chapter for a time. It sounded worthwhile. They attempted tenant organizing, food distribution, the organization of a mutual aid network. All good things to do, whether they work or not. The downside of this is that organizations don’t have a sharp learning curve. Everybody bails. They get discouraged or have to pick up a second job or they have children, or… on and on. So the people who could troubleshoot or refine a strategy or tactic bail, leaving the more energetic and naive to figure things out.

So this was the conversation. There’s this sweet, enthusiastic and cluelessly optimistic guy who is embedded in the local chapter of DSA. I immediately feel the need to knock him down, if only in my own mind. I saw that I am embarrassed for him. He posts cringeworthy, hopeful stuff on the internet. He doesn’t have the experience to assess futility. He’s not been broken.

We shit-talked the shit out of this guy, and it was so satisfying. It was like a cigarette after a day of swearing off. But, like the simile in the preceding sentence, I felt bad at the end. It was like discursive political binge drinking and I felt hungover.

I looked at myself, measured against this guy. I’m a firm believer that if a person wants to be consistently right they should opt for pessimism. Hope feels dangerous. I’ve seen hope, and it gets people destroyed.

A person I know spent a fairly long time in prison for militant political action. When they summarized the thinking behind their activities, they said that they sincerely believed a slogan thrown about in the movements that spun around the 1999-2001 anti-ministerial protests: “We are winning.”

We weren’t.

So for a long time I’ve felt that optimism is embarrassing and that it can be catastrophically harmful. This has been born out in my own life.

If I measure the young man against myself I see some things. This person doesn’t know these lessons in failure and it frees him up to try and to act.

Not trying doesn’t present virtue. Trying does. Hopelessness does nothing to encourage effort, and the efforts of the hopeless are generally sad and occasionally horrible. For myself I’ve become exhausted by embarrassment. I would rather appear smart by abstaining than look foolish by pouring effort into a lost cause.

I remember feeling hopeful. It felt good until it didn’t and I looked back on the hard work and pepper spray of the past to realize that I might truly be a dumbass.

It is not the case that I think resignation is useless. You can do a lot with it. As I said, if you want to be wrong, be an optimist. Resignation provides a scalpel to cut away hope not born out by reality, but I think I stop there. I look at the tumors and decide that the patient is fucked. Send them home with some painkillers and access to prestige television.

The naivete of hope doesn’t even bother hunting for those tumors. They just summon more energy, energy that is ultimately finite, and keep trying.

I want there to be a place in the middle where my cynicism is balanced by refusal to give up. Perhaps we have this in the present.

More and more I believe in two political facts: That people are constantly resisting immiseration through strategies that look like dysfunction. People’s drug use, absenteeism, theft, slacking surly demeanors and abstention from the nuclear family- these are all forms of political struggle. Probably not consciously so, but they don’t need to be. Or maybe they do. When all the technologies of surveillance and bureaucratic measurement are focused on these problems it is obvious that they are categories of struggle. Perhaps it would be beneficial to frame them this way.

The second of these is a belief in the power of what I imagine the British would call ‘the mob’. Our most recent periods of struggle have been defined by massive protests that become unapologetically militant in their confrontations with the police, who, if done away with, would allow people to address their problems rather expediently, by way of appropriation. The redistribution of wealth only looks like stealing on the surface.

The threat of this form of struggle was apparent as I read the news this morning. People are rising up against the administrators of their misery in Colombia, and the state is bringing all of its capacity for cooptation and violence to bear on this movement. American diplomats are decrying ‘vandalism’ as desperate people are torn apart by bullets.

How do we balance cynicism and hope in this context? We need both, but the fulcrum requires a balance of millimeters.

Amnesiacs

“I have this recurring nightmare: flailing pigeon, her broken feet frozen solid to the pavement. I turn away as if I do not see.”Lotus Gait by Propagandhi

Sometimes I fear that all my abstinence and abstention is vanity. I get to signal virtue on the basis of my distance from the rest of the species. I get to put on airs that I’m good by doing nothing.

Or maybe not. There’s no arbiter of these things, and at this point I am who I am. I speak of myself. I deny that I am good, maybe hoping that there’s an inversion that occurs because of this claim.

I’ve always felt punctured. The membrane between myself and the world is too thin. This doesn’t necessarily mean that I am kind. Sometimes the opposite has been true. That’s humans for you.

But I do get punctured and perhaps it says something about society more generally that we’re expected to fortify ourselves against the things that do this.

When I was 19 I went with one of my unfortunate girlfriends and several others to Florida. I was drifting between two personal nightmares. I did not have fun. I was not able to.

Gainesville was a punk Mecca for a time, with an influential record label kicking out albums by good bands that no one remembers. We went to a show at a record store. It was obligatory.

What exactly punk happens to be at a given time in a given place varies, but by this time it had largely distanced itself from the self-destructive mid-90’s, becoming something more polished. Lots of people were straight edge, lots of people were vegan, and everything was smarter. Somewhere in America people were still listening to GG Allin and huffing spray paint, but no one thought much about it- it was a museum piece.

All the well-heeled kids, college bound and neurotic, sat around and listened to an utterly forgettable band. There was a young woman, out of place in the crowd. She had dreadlocks and was dressed in rags. She danced aggressively and was obviously wasted. She was quickly ejected from the show and she stumbled into the night.

I was a heavy smoker and despite all the time I spent in bars and VFW halls listening to the musical equivalents of Civil War reenactments I don’t think I ever liked it. I just didn’t know what else to be or to do. I went outside to smoke. It was Florida but it was January and it was cold. I only had one cigarette left and walked toward the distant lights of a gas station.

The woman who had been thrown out was walking toward me. As we drew close she pulled back her fist, a punch that would have gone wide had it been thrown. It was more likely that it would have knocked her down than me. I am no real tough guy. I’m sure I’ve pretended, but I’m not. I’ve just been hit enough to rise to the occasion. I put up my fists.

Her eyes filled with tears. I put my hands down.

She embraced me, crying and lostness poured out. She went to a Rainbow Family gathering a few weeks prior and had no memory of anything since then. There was a baby somewhere, her baby, and she didn’t know who was taking care of it. She needed… she didn’t know what she needed. I didn’t either. We sat. We smoked. She cried. I gave her some money. That was it.

In another epoch I was walking down Tucson’s 4th Avenue commercial district. I don’t remember what year or month. It was cool enough to move in daylight so it must have been winter.

A young man sat at a table outside of a coffee shop. He looked at me, horror crawling on his face. He said, “Help me.” That’s a request that is so clear that it requires deafness and amnesia to avoid the mandate and live with yourself.

I sat down across from him and a disjointed mess of paranoia, delusion and trauma spilled out. There were men looking for him. A massive criminal enterprise. Did I see that car? It was them. And his boyfriend, and his social worker, and the government… so much was happening, reality interceding with implausibility, the whole thing mixed into nonsense and terror.

It’s not easy to reason with this because that’s not the language it speaks. But I tried. I decided I would be mooring for him to tie himself to. It might be the case that those men across the street reading newspapers are waiting to kill him, but they couldn’t possibly want to expose their far-reaching conspiracy to a solid citizen like myself. It would just be bad practice. And this made sense to him. He sang Nirvana songs after that, and then Eminem.

We moved inside. A friend was working at the cafe. He needed sugar and he wanted it dissolved in coffee. He let me look through his wallet and there was a social worker’s card within. I called her and said that I was with a client who seemed to be in crisis. She said I should get away from him, for my own sake, and I told her that sounded wildly irresponsible.

Eventually she picked him up, or somebody did. I don’t remember the hand-off. I just remember thinking that it’s not going to get better for him. This is going to be his life. Being scared of other people and other people being scared of him.

I went to graduate school, which was a bad idea and a bad look. On the whole, academics may not be bad people, but I find them (and by extension myself) to be obnoxious, and those in the social sciences are the worst of all. It’s a self-congratulatory disaster and if you leave it you’ll spin around looking for the identity that you abandoned when you began.

I went to conferences in important cities and sat in hotels, confronting the limits of my attention span. Out of boredom I asked confrontational questions and ate at restaurants I didn’t want to. I revisited the tedium of being a sober person in a bar. And I spent hours- literal hours!- not smoking weed.

I went to one of these gatherings in D.C. one year. No real reason to. My friends were going, I think that’s all, and I had a buddy living there. I fidgeted through talks that were desperate bids for tenure, grasps towards upward mobility, or the ‘masturbating the whale’ of established names. It sucked. It’s ego junkie shit.

I took my white privilege for a walk with my advisor and smoked weed on the sidewalk. A man was walking towards us, eyes wide, holding himself, wrapped up in a greasy coat. He was crying. I was transfixed. He saw this.

He stood in front of me. His mother was dead. That was it for him. A crushing fact. Everyone else was dead too, the remainder of an equation. He sobbed. We embraced and held on, for longer than I have with most people. I don’t remember what I felt. Maybe I felt important. Or cut open. What can you do?

You leave. These things should stop the world but they don’t. That man’s sorrow should have been an emergency, but it was just an inconvenience. The woman I was with didn’t have time for this routine misery, and I had nothing to give aside from that moment.

Worlds end all the time. Some people have to endure this in public, and nothing stops but them. Fryers fry, trains roll on, the dead lie in rooms full of dripping fluids and beeping machines. The right thing to do would be to tear it all apart and go down with them.

People would say that’s unhealthy, but none of what we live through is healthy. They’re not really talking about health. They’re talking about convenience, and not even for themselves, but for whoever sits above them, cursing the help.

Bashing Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

The following has been informed by Cognitive Behavioral Tsunami: Managerialism, Politics and the Corruptions of Science by Farhad Dalal. It’s a brutal takedown of this therapeutic modality.

I’ve been to lots of therapists in my life. Some have been good, some not so much. Ultimately, it’s just the done thing when you’re in emotional distress.

When I was a child I didn’t really understand what it meant to be involved in talk therapy. I didn’t have any experiential baseline to compare my own internal life to, and no one ever brought me up to speed on the idea that I was somehow abnormal. Nor did I have an understanding of the behavioral benchmarks that indicate abnormality. So I sat around with various adult professionals without understanding the goal of that sitting around.

In adulthood I’ve been more aware of the goal in these settings. There’s a problem and the goal is to make that problem less onerous. It hasn’t worked much of the time, but this might be me, or it might be the world.

Generally, the difficulty has been in the exclusion of material conditions from the discussion, and a failure to evaluate my ability to bring myself into line with the ideal resolution of the problems identified. A lot of it is grey, but moments stand out.

There’s a man from early adolescence who had age appropriate and interesting book recommendations. Awesome. A+.

Then there’s a person who insisted that I take psychiatric medications or she wouldn’t treat me. I left the session.

A therapist once grazed the surface of a larger issue: I needed to want something. But I didn’t want anything, except maybe to feel better.

An elderly therapist made me take the Briggs-Meyer personality test. No thanks.

Two years ago I was ruined. I was just flailing around, sinking. I was enrolled as a patient in an anxiety focused clinic with a sliding scale payment policy. I filled out an endless evaluation form and was then receiving therapy.

The person administering my sessions was a young woman who was a postdoctoral fellow in neuroscience, which is not a field of expertise that normally deals with human thoughts or feelings out in the world of subjective experience. They look at brains. This might or might not bear upon human suffering.

She explained the paradigm that we’d be working within, that being Mindfulness Based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (MBCBT). This isn’t something I knew much about. It was explained to me that MBCBT was a data-driven, research informed therapeutic model supported by the innovative thinking of a dickhead stepfather: Your thoughts impact your feelings and you’re in control of your thoughts. The process doesn’t waste time on past events- there’s no point. Nor is it concerned with material conditions. The right mindset is either impervious to, or perhaps able to overcome, almost any life circumstances.

There are obvious deficits in this understanding. Or, perhaps, deliberately harmful myths that are perpetuated.

A case study: A thirteen year old is beaten. What comes first in this event? I think it depends on the staging.

Let us say the beating is unexpected (which seems highly unlikely, but I guess we’re dealing with abstractions). What comes first?

A fist hurtles towards a face. Is the brain behind the face aware of what’s coming? I guess the fist could be coming towards the back of the head, but if it’s head-on, then yeah, the victim is aware.
So, if there’s an awareness, is that a thought or a feeling? I don’t know. In my experience there’s a moment of terror, which is definitely a feeling, coupled with a reflexive urge to avoid this theoretical fist, and I guess a thought, which might be “Oh fuck. Anthony is punching me in the face (again).”

I don’t know how to pull these things apart. I’m no thought scientist (and you don’t have to be to practice CBT) but experience tells me that there’s no parsing out chickens and eggs here. Human consciousness isn’t an assembly line.

In the straw man argument above, how would thinking inform the feeling? Maybe if one were able to alter the automatic thought from “Oh shit, a fist,” to “This is an opportunity to learn to endure pain,” the sufferer could have a more enriching experience, as long as they subdue their urge to get out of the way. Any anxiety one might have about such an event happening again is to be dealt with by recognizing that just because you got punched today it isn’t necessarily going to happen tomorrow.

This is the institutional model of therapy practiced in the modern psychotherapeutic context, and its prominence coincides with the rise of the nonprofit sector and the psychiatrization of society, against the backdrop of neoliberal austerity. This makes quite a bit of sense.

“Non-profit organization” is a misnomer. It is true that there are no shareholders in such an organization (instead there’s a board comprised of wealthy people and professional administrators), but they still operate according to the mandates of accumulation: The organization that can provide more services for less money receives funding, and the entire sector is based upon a low wage/high turnover business model. It’s an outsourcing of the management of human misery. Non-profit executives make six figure salaries while the grunts get $13 an hour and a consolation prize: They’re doing good work that helps people (which probably isn’t true).

Therefore, CBT is perfect for this sector. It is brief- instead of years of psychotherapy, CBT generally terminates after a given number of sessions. Also, it doesn’t require intensive training. In my brief experience in social work education, this is the only therapy we would be trained in, and the training wouldn’t be extensive.

And it’s ideologically convenient. As it is concerned with thoughts rather than material conditions or personal history the distress of the client is a personal failing rather than a systemic problem. Good news though: You can change your negative thoughts. And if you don’t, well, you’re two times a failure.

I’ve tried to imagine bringing this therapeutic approach to bear on someone in an abusive domestic arrangement with no familial assistance, and I immediately revert to the ‘getting punched in the face’ example. It doesn’t work. It doesn’t help. It’s actually profoundly harmful.

During my time receiving this therapy, before every single session, I used a Macbook to fill out a questionnaire of approximately 60 questions that pried into the myriad ways that I hadn’t measured up to being a functional person. After this endless reminder of my disappointment the therapist would sit me down and show me a graph charting my responses. Occasionally there would be a spike- progress! Most of the time it was a straight line.

I always left these sessions with worksheets. Yup. Fucking dittos about how to reframe life problems. Or I’d receive a recommendation for an app that would allow me to journal about my spontaneous negative thoughts. I didn’t know what to say. That app would be open all day, every day.

Perhaps most egregious was a focus on mindfulness. I’m not knocking the practice of meditation. But there is a profound disconnect between MBCBT and mindfulness, a breach that is healed by simply not talking about it. My baseline understanding of the various iterations of mindfulness meditation is that thoughts are inherently out of control. I recall a statement by Jon Kabat-Zinn (and I’m paraphrasing) that one can’t think their way out of depression, and I agree. But CBT, as a fundamental principle, asserts that thoughts can and should be controlled.

But whatever, branding is what matters when you’re obviously failing to help people and getting paid for it. I hope someday we awaken to a society that has made the “helping professions” obsolete, and proceeds to remove their taint from whatever world comes next.

Ketamine. Some Water Talk. Spatial Autocorrelation.

There’s a quote attributed to Bruce Lee. I can’t figure out where it originates from: “Be water, my friend. Empty your mind. Be formless, shapeless, like water. You put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle. You put it into a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.”

It’s a thoroughly Taoist statement. Lao Tsu had this to say: “Nothing in the world is softer or weaker than water. Yet nothing is better at overcoming the hard and strong.”

The Tao Te Ching is, among other things, an expression of anarchism’s most fundamental beauty. Resist capture or reactivity. Act without acting. Govern through an abstention of governance. It’s just really hard to put into practice. Most of us act like iron and not like water.

It’s a small planet we live on. There’s a ‘law’ in geography. ‘Tobler’s Law’. It offers the following truism: All things are related to all other things, but things that are closer together are more alike.

There’s a second law. ‘What happens in an area of interest is affected by phenomenon outside of that area’.

It’s not wrong. It’s not stupid. I do wonder about scale with this though. ‘Close’ is very slippery. Do we apply this to our solar system, or our galaxy, or our universe? If we can discern that something is theoretically infinite how does this rule apply?

I found myself drafting water into the description of a phenomenon the other day. Anyone who reads this blog more than once, and there are probably not that many of you, know that I take ketamine once a week in a clinical setting. I’ve taken it about 60 times, and I still can’t figure it out. Other psychedelics seem to speak a coherent language. Ketamine offers only riddles.

I’ve begun narrating and recording my sessions, and I’m doing this for two reasons.

One is simple intellectual curiosity.

Ketamine throws tons of very weird images at me very rapidly. The relationships of these images are tangential or nonexistent. So much for Tobler’s Law. I am interested in how the staging of these images works: Is there a progression by type, or is something else going on?

The other reason I am doing this is that ketamine can be dark. I’ve learned that talking to the drug lightens it up. Maybe it’s lonely. Or scared. Or angry. Whatever the case, asking it questions and observing its work seems to change it from frightening to, if not pretty, at least gentle.

I think about the relationship between a drug and a user in what is probably an unusual way, which I can extend to most things that we consider to be NOT ALIVE. A synonym: Inanimate. Inanimate objects structure our thoughts and actions. At the point of observation or interaction inanimate objects become a part of the observer. Everyone’s a cyborg. And a chimera.

To flip it, animism: The matter we encounter is imbued with spirit.

Long story short, I narrate and occasionally talk to my intoxication (bad word, but whatever).

The first time I did this I ended up talking to a blue woman who I perceived to be a manifestation of the spirit of the drug. I recall speaking to her as if she was an underappreciated artist and I was a fanatical groupie: “Oh baby… no one gets you. You’re a genius.” Unfortunately, my recording device ran out of power so I don’t have a transcript of this. You’ll just have to trust me.

In the two sessions that followed I got everything on tape. The experiences were less profound in that I was less high as I’ve been trying to reduce my dose a bit. Still, I said some hilarious things. I crack myself up.

But to bring it around to the ‘water is like x’ thing, I have been forced into the following simile: Consciousness is like water. Or maybe water is like consciousness. Who came first?

But it’s not like water in its immediately visible properties. I’m not talking about flow, or speed, or phase. I’m talking about one of water’s basic chemical properties. Water is a universal solvent. It binds, chemically, to most things. It makes disparate elements become a part of itself, and it releases most of them upon a change in phase.

Consciousness is the universal solvent of stimuli. It takes phenomena and it converts it into meaning. It comes into contact with the entirety of the world and it binds to it to imbue it with significance. And even the things that it has already dissolved in this way get recombined.

Under the influence of ketamine the illusion of a chain of signification is broken. I don’t know how to make a diagram that illustrates this, so my efforts might be confusing. Everything I write is probably confusing. But it goes like this…

Linear significance: A straight line of association occurs. I think of water, I think of a beach, I think of a sunburn, I think of getting lost on a beach one summer. I think of my parents. I think of time. I think I’m running out of it.

Ketamine significance: Instead of an endless series of things in a series we have a bifurcation. Water- sand/beach (sand in my mouth/falling/dropping ice cream)(bathing suit/beached whale)(standing at a high point and thinking of jumping/a pratfall on a banana peel)(banana-monkey-monk-catholicism-schism-chasm).

This line of thinking could go on forever. Maybe some people have the ability to do so outside of a state of consciousness alteration. I don’t. Perhaps it’s just easier to consider a fractal pattern or a fungal rhizome. Every point of consideration has an extraordinarily high number of connections via very tangential properties of that point. The direct association we’re used to becomes a fractal process of both differentiation and association. The diversity and irreducibility of the world is processed.

So, we’re trapped inside the field effects of our brains. We can escape it for a while, or at least observe it, by various avenues that produce altered states, but we end up back where we started… Maybe we’re entirely free of it when our lives end. Or maybe time is so different than we experience it to be that we’re eternally there.

And now the fun part: Ketamine narration. None of this makes sense but I say a few funny things.

Session 1:
Yellow room. A cat. A goose
A hedge full of animals.
Passing darkness.
Green and blue waveforms.
Particle phenomenon on something that looks like a foosball table.
And then just darkness.
Brick. Corner of a house.
An image from Caliban and the Witch.
Lots of white and um, tessellated [inaudible]
I’m seeing faces through a gauzy thing.
Weird. Like… gold on lavender.
Looks like fancy stationery.
Seeing a night sky. With some silhouette figures.
Black.
Very basic shapes.
Red field.
I don’t know what you call this color. Some of it’s purple.
Some kind of textile mill.
Now it’s getting cleared out.
Seems like there’s something underneath.
Seems like everything’s some kind of lavender. Something else is going on.
There’s some kind of printing press moving way faster than I can think. Probably run.
Interesting, sepia moment. Walking down the beach.
Yup. Still a printing press. I don’t even know what a printing press looks like but I know this.
I’m seeing some what appear to be graphs. Yeah. Graphs. Lots of graphs.
And in the background for whatever reason there’s a little kid jumping around on a couch.
And there’s a white kind of thing and then there’s dark.
Just kind of saw a lady’s body, like the cover of The Eyre Affair. Weird.
Myself, and this person is just laying on the front yard. Love.
Inside of a very tall fluted column light shining down. Interesting change to a man in a parking lot blowing leaves.
Things are drifting around above.
Weird figures. Then nothing.
Not really seeing anything at this point. Just some, like, weird ghosts are milling around. Which is cool. I’m down. Reality. Shit sucks. Tired of being a thing inside a thing inside a thing. How fucking boring is that?
Skating on ice. Big long place to skate.
Looks like there’s a lot of field effects happening. Where all the stuff gets disturbed and gets back together.
There is a lot of red going on. Swirling red. Looks like the Pilgrim State Psychiatric Hospital got flooded and like weird junk showed up. Weird angry balloons or whatever.
Yeah, little kids running around in leaf dust. Fucking pissed off. I don’t blame ‘em.
Lower parts of young men’s faces in grey. Part of the interior of a building. Things go red.
Ooh. Some spinning diamonds. That’s kind of psychedelic. Way to go ketamine. Spinning around. Kind of looks like a boob.
Getting a lot of pink up in this thing here. I would like to be immortal. How are you supposed to figure anything out if you’re not?
I’m in the center of a pearl encrusted weird pink thing. I don’t know what’s going on exactly.
Hm, weird. Big. Lots of like basic shapes doing weird things.
Whole thing is pink.
Images of abrasion at point of contact.
Big old bird. [inaudible]
Interesting lavender.
And some space again.
A lot of light going on. Figures… mirrored. A lot more blue than previous.
[End of Recording]

Suburban Development as Nightmare, Mushrooms in Attendance.

This is a stupid song. Just pretend the chorus is “Hate Suburbia” instead of “Hey Suburbia”.

Most of us live in some terrible iteration of America (and if you don’t, just wait a while). This is about mine.

Long Island is one of the temples of mid-20th century whiteness, established as a suburb back when men were men, women were shutting the fuck up, and children were incipient communists.

I’ve heard lots of places lay claim to being the most segregated in the country. Depending on the metric they might all qualify, but Long Island definitely has received some sort of medal in the racism olympics. Our realtors are dedicated to steering people into the correct neighborhood. Those pesky redlines might be gone (or at least you’d think so) but those real estate agents like their teeth to be as white as their census tracts. Smarter people than I have written plenty of things about the long, bleached and blanched history of this place. I can’t do it justice.

It’s a place where baby boomer opulence built on defense industry jobs and housing boom speculation have created an illusion of opulence and it might be the case that the illusion itself provides some cover to the less well-heeled. Any awareness that the middle class has of their lessors deriving some benefit from the speculative value of their houses is met with paroxysms of fury. Whenever faced with the possibility of someone unlike them deriving ancillary benefits comes up there’s a sort of standard response: “I want a killer lacrosse team, not a chance of upward mobility for some black kid. Don’t feed the squirrels!”

There’s an interesting thing happening in terms of class here. A lot of it is subterranean, like, physically. The economically precarious rent basement apartments and live below the footsteps and barking dogs of the middle class. It might be a galling and belittling situation but it’s better than sleeping in the woods. Tick borne illnesses are rampant here. And few cars have a backseat with enough legroom for sleeping. 33% of Nassau and Suffolk County households are considered Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed (which give this miserable statistical category a cool acronym, that being ALICE), meaning that they have to choose between rent and utilities, or medical care, or food.

It’s a place that has perfected the obscuring of poverty. All the people driving Amazon trucks, cutting grass and burning themselves on fast food deep fryers can live where they please, as long as (please, please) they don’t do it in our line of sight. So they, (or we I suppose) live with relatives, or on a roulette wheel of couches and cross our fingers that we don’t rub our benefactors the wrong way.

And there are so many places where the children of the prior generation spin their wheels in their parents’ houses, saved from homelessness by the leavings of the prior generation’s class deal. We go nowhere and try not to register the guilt that we feel at being rescued from our own economic uselessness while so many other people are gasping for air after 80 hours of employment at Dunkin’ Donuts.

It’s a place born of a particular strategy of class war. The suburban developers of the 1950’s offered the white working class an opportunity to avoid talking to other human beings most of the time and they jumped on it. No more walking through society and encountering social problems that you are implicated in. No more subway. No more neighbors across the hall. The suburb was a place to prosper or suffer, mostly both, while the rest of humanity ate shit. William Levitt famously stated that “No man who owns his own house and lot can be a communist. He has too much to do.” He was right. This is a ‘stay off of my fucking lawn’ kind of place.

It’s a place of rigid conformity. It’s visible in the landscape. Zoning laws, lending practices, building codes… they’re all there stating in legalese that things are going to look the same, and if they miss anything then the passive aggression of neighbors will fill in the gap.

It’s a shithole, is what I’m trying to get across. Prohibitive real estate costs in two counties of sprawling suburb guarantee that anything interesting will also be ephemeral. If young people can afford to leave they do. Clearly I don’t like it, and by inference, I can’t afford to leave. I try to make the best of it. I pursue my little interests and aside from an occasional six-year old companion I pursue them on my own.

The landscape here has been destroyed threefold. Terrible Englishmen arrived here and replaced the survival strategies of the Algonquin speaking people of the landmass with shitty market oriented farming. Those fields turned towards intensive monocropping and orcharding and by the 2000’s even these things were gone, replaced by sod farms. Long Islanders apparently prefer to purchase grass that’s been beaten into submission and then resurrected with a ton of nitrogen and Roundup. If grass could join the Proud Boys this grass would.

Fishing and whaling for trade started a depletion that has resulted in the near extirpation of all marine mammals and many species of fish. I have pictures of a shitty uncle dumping a fifty gallon garbage pail full of bluefish onto my grandfather’s front lawn. It wasn’t enough to pointlessly slaughter these fish, they needed to be insulted, and this insult needed to be photographed.

I don’t know if there’s a thing one could call old growth here. I doubt it. All the trees got cut down before the Revolutionary War to build ships that would carry people who didn’t want to go places to places that didn’t want them. Or to fire cannons at those places.

Anything that was left has, for the most part, been destroyed by suburban development. There are sad little patches of woods, and the sad little deer live there and return there to die after a hazardous trip across the road. People here drive very fast, desperate to hurry up and wait- at the next light, at the drive thru, at work or home, just waiting to die. It’s not their fault they’re awful, but they do raise questions as to whether some localized plague would be a bad thing.

Apparently the truly wealthy hang out here in the Summer, but they mostly travel by helicopter, far above the heads of the pathetic taxpayers who aspire to be like them.

A thing I do with my time here is forage for mushrooms. You wouldn’t think that this would be a good place for that but it is. There are caveats to be made- It’s rare to find any of the high dollar species. For instance, the only yellow chanterelle I’ve found was solitary, growing out of someone’s front yard plantings. When I went to pick it a woman told me from her second story window that she would call the police if I didn’t- wait for it- get off her fucking lawn.

But in terms of other things it’s pretty fucking great. Like more than a family could eat, give away, and sell, at least when it comes to ‘Chicken of the Woods” (of which there are at least 3 distinct species growing here).

I have many questions about this. Science questions. Science questions that will likely never be answered because I’m not a scientist and I would be surprised if there are many trained mycologists that are very interested in 1) being in this terrible place and 2) waiting at some mushmouth’s front door, observed by one of the many devices that suburbanites use to protect themselves from those who would dare to take their most recent ‘Live, Laugh, Love’ wall hanging off of their porch, for permission to take an organism that they despise off of their oak tree.

My impressions about the abundance of the species in this genus (Laetiporous, if you’re interested) might be faulty, which is interesting in and of itself. While organisms that grow in the woods require one to look for them relatively aimlessly (and yes, this is a huge oversimplification), suburbia creates transects. We drive to the same places all the time and a lack of any obscuring trees makes it fairly easy to spot a bright orange thing on the ground. So, maybe they’re growing everywhere all the time but my ability to see them leads me to a false assumption about prevalence. The same bias might be inherent in my observations of unbearable assholes.

But if this first assumption is true, then my untestable hypotheses are as follows:

This is a place where the preferred substrate of these fungus, that being oak, proliferate. This in itself is a good enough reason to explain the prevalence of these mushrooms, but with that said, they still seem to grow in greater abundance next to roadways. Again, it could be a bias. I don’t walk in the woods as frequently as I drive to somewhere pointless.

If it’s a yes, that they do appear more frequently along roadways, then what explains this? I have thoughts. A forest is a windbreak. Moving air, so kind to fungal pathogens, doesn’t have the ability to penetrate to the same extent that it does in a place where trees serve as ornamentation. Maybe it is by virtue of exposure to air from these breezeways that host trees are exposed to both more spore and more Billy Joel. And who knows? Maybe Billy Joel piping out of car windows has depleted these trees of their will to live to the point where they’re more susceptible to infection.

It could be the case that these trees are less healthy. I’m not sure. This would be another research question that would require methods that I don’t know and couldn’t execute if I did. There’s enough drunk driving happening that people might just be banging into these oaks frequently enough that they’re more exposed to infection.

Or perhaps the waves of suburban development that have occurred create cohorts of trees that are all roughly the same age, and at this homogenous age they become more susceptible to infection. Maybe these are all baby boom trees that aren’t able to obsessively extend their lives past the sell-by like people do.

I will continue to want answers to these questions with absolutely no ability to answer them. As well, I will continue to eat things that have likely been doused in Roundup, next to roads where the weaponized dog turds and wasted food of suburbia turns to dust and blankets the most scrubbed down people I can imagine.

No Gods and Precious Few Heroes on Saint Patrick’s Day

Heroes are a strange phenomenon and we exist in a moment in which the idea has become almost meaningless. I agree with Alan Moore’s assertion that the figure of the superhero is an infantile and ugly thing.

Leaving aside the blatant use of the figures of the Marvel Comics Universe as tools for military recruitment, there is a constant and execrable lionization of institutions like the CIA.

For instance, my ability to give a shit about Black Panther was ripped to shreds when I realized that I was watching a movie in which a CIA operative aided an African monarch in the assassination of a political militant. Fucking gross. And of course the film ends with the founding of a non-profit organization, which is too fitting a parallel with our actually existing reality.

These figures give us nothing to aspire to, except maybe violence. Wasn’t it satisfying when Tony Stark drank champagne while showing off a missile system? I wouldn’t have been surprised if he turned that mountain range into a second Mount Rushmore with a caption below reading “Fuck You, Brown People”.

I grew up reading superhero comics. Predictably, Wolverine was my favorite. He teaches kids a weird lesson, because his only real superpower is an ability to endure incredible pain without acknowledging that it hurts. Because he’s so pissed off all the time. As a kid I got it: If you want to be a man, never acknowledge that anything is wrong. Just wait for your x-gene to kick in and everything will get better.

The other alluring thing about Wolverine was that he didn’t know where he came from or who he was (despite endless treatments of this subject). That sounded fucking great. Forget who I am? Yes please.

We get older, and we drift away from these things. They’re fantasy and life is not a fantasy. But I could never get free of heroism.

I was raised on traditional Irish music which celebrated martyrdom as often as it mourned tragedy and I still get all choked up explaining the historical significance of a Christy Moore song (with the listener most likely stifling a yawn).

The adults around me always had a tendency to celebrate their ethnic identification with a place that their ancestors left a long time ago. The lineage that celebrated this most fervently were descended of Irish people, sure, but also of English and Scottish forebears.

Why this fixation on Ireland? I think it has to do with all those martyrs. It’s exciting to think you’re attached, at some point in history, to people who got wronged and who fought back. But a closer examination of literally anywhere in the world would provide a similar narrative.

We’re not unique. It’s just that our music is catchy. Or rather, the people who we identify with make catchy music. I haven’t heard any of my uncles sing or play a single chord on a guitar.

All of this gets converted into a weird and pointless nationalism directed at a place where none of us have ever been. And that’s one of the problems particular to this kind of identification. The beautiful instances of internationalist heroism get lost in a stew of thoughtless nostalgia. We could have risen to the task demanded by oppression around the world and starved ourselves to death, but instead we ate corned beef and shitty bread.

It would be easy for me to assert that we’re not living in an age of heroes, but this is patently incorrect. There are struggles by colonized and oppressed people occurring around the world and there are more martyrs everyday. Indigenous activists in South and Central America endure that particular form of torture that is intended to terrify, and then they get dumped somewhere where they’re sure to be found. People like Rachel Corey get ground under the treads of construction equipment. Heather Heyer gets mowed down in Charlottesville. The Peshmerga fight a two-fronted war against two shades of fascism.

I wish I could rise to the occasion and throw my body on the right kind of bullets, but I sit here in the United States waiting for the right kind of rupture, or catastrophe, or some kind of moment. But if that moment came, I think the evil of good intentions would have someone incorporating a non-profit organization to best manage the opportunity and deposit us back in a nice, normal world.

So beware, young and incipient heroes. There are endless techniques at play to kill you, or turn you into a bureaucrat, or turn you into a monster. Sharpen your distrust, forge your cynicism into a weapon, and keep your love chambered.

Exegesis Rock Opera, Waiting to be Made

R. Crumb's vision of Philip K. Dick

A long time ago I tried to write a rock opera based on the Exegesis of Philip K. Dick, which is a wild book written by a fascinating person. The guy who gave us the iconic film Bladerunner, the rotoscoped Scanner Darkly, and the serialized Man in the High Castle… his most impressive work is a seemingly endless examination of a spontaneous gnostic experience in which hidden realities of existence were revealed to him. It’s one of those towering works of troubled genius where someone puts a revelation on a table, uses whatever random tools they have to pry it apart, and then puts it back together with duct tape and spit.

Among many assertions he makes is that a new paradigm of God is overwriting existence- changing the code, and changing it for the better. He also has a ton to say about Jesus, which I am still trying to crack myself.

I was reading it during a profoundly bad time in my life, and wanted to collaborate with a friend in the creation of a rock opera that takes Dick’s postulation of an overwriting deity and presumes that it didn’t work. That this new God died, and when a God dies it is a universal, infinite death that extends through all of time and all of materiality.

This rock opera will never exist. Since one of my weekly commitments is to update this empty well and I am much more interested in working on other things at the moment, I have included a portion of the lyrical component below.

I’m not fond of poetry. So, I’m going to say that these are random lyrics from a dead project.

Do you remember where you were on the day that Zebra died? When the tao became so polluted that it caught fire? When they painted a swastika on dark matter?

We have all always felt it- a disturbance in the force. The events that are so large that they blanket time. Real subsumption, total war, we rush towards the catastrophe at the center of it all, gradually noticing that we are in a blast zone.  

It has always been too late. Too late doesn’t even apply. We are misperceiving time. 

Anders Breivik slaughters migrant children outside the gates of Auschwitz caked in the dust of the Oklahoma City bombing, bathed in the glow of a million burning cities, all somehow contained within the walls of a massive prison. 

Do you remember where you were on the day that Zebra died? 

By the television? 

By the radio?

In a nursing home? 

At work? 

In prison? 

When Zebra died by a thousand cuts, excised from the world not once but time after time. 

Where were you when Zebra died? 

You were everywhere. 

Zebra died in my arms. 

We had spent the evening together. It made beautiful music for me that reminded me of my mother. 

It showed me a cosmic serpent as it navigated time. 

Then on the television, Donald Trump talked about grabbing pussies. 

A black ichor spread through my life, spilling backwards and forwards in time. 

Zebra got sick. There was no saving it.  Over three months I watched it weaken. Then it turned to dust and blew away. 

I raged, I grieved, I mourned for years. 

The ragged hole never closed. 

Every day after the edges blew and folded, got infected and leaked hot pus. 

Backwards and forwards in time the infection spread. 

You learn to live with it until you can’t. 

And you still just live with it. 

Until  you can’t. 

And you still just live with it. 

Ad infinitum. 

If the purpose of life writ small is the production of consciousnesses, perhaps this is the truest horror.

The collection of so many sad souls, to what purpose? 

It is the child’s refrain: But why?

I saw a man, younger than me, with the markings of my subculture. 

He had been out in the rain all day. 

He had a blanket strapped to his back and nothing else. 

His eyes spoke of the institutional circuit in the language of lostness

I and my mother drove past him, a man who might be me given a few more bad turns. 

I ate dinner in front of the television as the people of Hong Kong fought a losing battle for freedom from labrynthine prisons. 

I took my walk, got stoned halfway through. 

Ahead of me was a man who lingered and lurched, very drunk and in the thick of it, carrying a bag. He pissed on the grass in front of a shopping center and then cursed at the cars that stopped for him. 

He was clean, but dressed as though he had sprinted through the aisles of a thrift store and grabbed items with his eyes closed. 

Again, I walked by this man who I could have been. 

There was a time I would have pursued these people, unmindful of and unaffected by their pain, nimble of tongue and mind, and sought an encounter. 

But this is not who I am anymore. Now I want to be invisible, to be small and hidden, to run underground. 

I am not fruiting. Conditions aren’t right. I am out of season. 

There was a fawn dead on the side of the road, still with white spots. 

I had moved past what I imagine was its mother and its sole surviving sibling on my way up the hill. 

I know that things die better than I know other things. 

I am not surprised by this

Just as I am not surprised at the tens of thousands of dead children in Yemen 

Just as I would not be surprised if I was diagnosed with skin cancer this year. 

These things happen. 

But we are saturated in the symbolism of the death of innocence, of blamelessness, of possibility. 

Zebra was to save us from this, but Zebra is dead, has always been dead, will always be dead, lying on the side of the road of history, its eyes glazed. 

I can’t determine the topography of the event that killed it. 

My perspective is insufficient. 

I believe it is trans-temporal, that there is an event somewhere in time that spills out in all directions. 

Perhaps it is best to think of it hydrologically. To imagine a flow of horror that aggregates in great pools, runs off in small rivulets and empties, eventually, somewhere in history. 

Is this event behind us (as we speak of these things) or yet to occur, or is it simply one ocean? 

Did Zebra drown? How long would that take? 

I have come to think that compassion is a virtue above all other things. 

This in the same period in which I have become less capable of fulfilling the mandates of this belief. I have renounced violence. I have not raised my voice. 

What is it like, dying? Like, what is it like for you? 

How do you feel about the fact that you’re consciousness and your body will be going their separate ways in a defined time frame? 

Are you afraid? Are you excited? 

Are you plagued by regret or filled with the satisfaction of a life well lived or merely preoccupied by what might come next? 

Or does it hurt too much for any of that to figure in? What is the pain like? Where does it take your mind? 

I am worried about what comes next. 

I think it is a sign of extreme indolence on my part.

There’s a part of me so tired of the experience of consciousness that I fear that it will persist. 

I merely want to go on a ride, go with the flow, be carried in the stream of things. I want to be a receiver. I want to be pure information. 

But perhaps you want something different. Would you live forever if you could? 

If the answer is yes, I can’t say I blame you. I mean, you can’t, but I understand why you’d want to. 

Maybe I’d feel differently about life if it never ended. 

Unlimited time to make mistakes, time to be hurt and to heal, opportunity to grieve until it no longer affects you to lose things. 

I could walk everywhere. No need to rush. 

Were you loved well enough that you’ll be missed? 

That is what keeps me here. 

I’d die without it. 

I’ve tried to kill myself in the past. 

It’s been a long time since then. 

Not killing yourself has something to do with love, but I’m not sure what exactly.

Who is it that will miss you the most? 

Will they survive your passing? 

At first one would think “Of course,” but I don’t think the outcome is so certain. 

Some people are strong enough to weather the loss of a treasured person, others are not so gifted. 

This doesn’t mean that they will die necessarily, but that they will be so torn, so altered from what they used to be when you were there that they are unrecognizable to themselves. 

There is a way of seeing in which you are a majestic dragon, your eyes are rubies, you breathe a river of fire that is made of tiny little people who remake what they touch. 

They don’t burn but overturn the physicality of the objects of your cleansing bellows, creating immanence where once there was fact. 

The person who burns in your fires is a body without organs, an infant brain, a canvass heavy with the sheer weight of historicity. You are destroyer, bringer of change.

Then there is the you that is a God in a pantheon, puissant and petty, possessed of great powers, great feats feathering your cap.  

Enmeshed in a web of relations between gods and monsters, this is the you that has wild love affairs and violent feuds, that travels to the tops of mountains and to the depths of hell. 

This one can be a trickster or a brute, depending on the moral to be imparted. 

Then there is the you that is pure light. 

You feel nothing but this light that you are, and you have the good fortune to also be a crystalline song that is somehow able to hear itself. 

Then there is the you that is a frightened person who hides inside all day. 

You don’t like to eat and would sleep forever if you could. 

You are at a stage in your relationship with meaninglessness where all the romance has gone out of it. 

This terminal fact that we live for nothing, that we are an isolated pool in the hydrology of time. 

When I was a child I was scared of it but could see it only through its horseman, death. 

Then in adolescence I flaunted it, wore it like a target for those who would be most affected by the assertion that absolutely nothing mattered. 

Now, after so many years together, I’ve become frightened of it again. Now it hectors me, speaks to me through the radio, is written in code in the newspaper coupons. 

If this is you, don’t despair. You are on your way through countless manifestations, many grand, some the mortar and pestle to which even the greatest journeys sometimes subject us. 

You may be meat now, but you will be spirit tomorrow.