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Building Invisible Comic Community Through Interdimensional Travel, Part 1

A strategy for the Dumpster Tong over at Wealth Bondage.

Note: This is an absurdly long article, one that attempts to summarize the conclusions I reach in the Zombie/Blogger series I began over two years ago but never completed for lack of time. I have hastened completion of this article as the time seems apposite for it. As such it reaches conclusions without having first presented all the steps in detail that lead to those conclusions. If this article is a bit rambling and something of a hodgepodge it is because the priority was getting it public as soon as I could, rather than whipping it into something tight and shapely. For this I apologize in equal measure to withdrawing that apology. Someday I will finish the original series as intended, complete with its profusion of metaphors, allusions, resources, pictures and diagrams. For now, even though it's still immodestly long (and only the first of two installments yet), please accept this as a fairly rough, non-comprehensive summary. Part 2 will follow in another week or two — promise.

There can be no one book, no master thinker for these times. What is called for is a practice of combining heterogeneous modes of perception, thought and feeling, different styles of researching and writing, different kinds of connection to different readers, proliferation of information across different media, all practiced within a gift economy, expressing and elaborating differences, rather than broad-casting a dogma, a slogan, a critique or line.
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This expressive politics does not seek to overthrow the state, or to reform its larger structures, or to preserve its structure so as to maintain an existing coalition of interests. It seeks to permeate existing states with a new state of existence. It spreads the seeds of an alternate practice of everyday life.
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Everywhere that desire throws off the heavy armor of lack and expresses its own joyful plenitude, it quickly finds itself captured as an image and offered back to itself as representation. Thus the strategy for any desire that would arm itself with its own self-unfolding is to create for itself a vector outside of commodification, as a first step toward accelerating the surplus of expression, rather than the scarcity of representation.
     —McKenzie Wark. A Hacker Manifesto

Hiding in Plain Sight

Where there is an insurrectionary desire there is an insurrectionary will. People who share this desire need to identify one another and coalesce. Underground railroads, sanctuary movements, Tongs, gangs — whatever you want to call them — are putative criminal societies because they are communal entities that exist as mutual aid collectives outside the purview of a culture's ideological conventions and its customary channels of charity. Such societies, in forming their own aid networks, have opted to rely on themselves in looking to their peers for help rather than their society's officially sanctioned institutions. This creates chains of trust that cement such societies together, making them less reliant on their society's credentializing apparatuses — banks, insurance companies, medical bureaucracies, etc — making it easier for such societies to hide from official view. The success of such peer-to-peer mutual aid organizations relies to a great extent upon the degree to which they 1) no longer need to access their society's offical apparatuses; and 2) are not visibly confrontational with their society's status quo.

But how is a secret society formed under an increasingly panoptic gaze? Perhaps the best way is by hiding in plain sight. Like a predator whose attention becomes drawn only when something moves, the gaze seeks anomalies in which deviations from accepted patterns stand out. Thus the more behavior conforms to expectations, the less interest the gaze has in examining it. And the sharper that gaze becomes, the greater the need to blend into the background.

Trying to hide from the panoptic gaze makes you automatically suspect: "Why try to hide if you have nothing to hide?" The increasingly panoptic gaze is due to Control's increasing paranoia; and, as is true for all neuroses — psychological and social — the obsessive focus of the neurosis creates the very symptoms it seeks to protect itself from. It is the Tao at work, in the sense that something always creates its opposite: no light without dark, no tall without small, no creation without destruction, no life without death... and no repressive authority without enemies seeking to undermine it.

  • No light — No dark.
  • No theism — No atheism.
  • No repressive authority — No enemies.
  • No panoptic gaze — No secrets.
  • No offense — No defense.
  • No neocolonial forces of global privatization — No terrorism.

And so the panoptic gaze is a self-fulfilling prophecy that creates the wish to hide from it → which makes the desire for disappearance automatically suspect to the warders → which proves to the warders that the panoptic gaze is correct in its assumptions — for why would one hide if one wasn't guilty? But the one thing the warders don't take into account is that "the innocent — especially those from ethnicities not accustomed to state scrutiny — don't want to be watched any more than the guilty do." [Siva Vaidhyanathan. The Anarchist in the Library.] And thus a new criminal class is created — society itself, as it seeks to hide from the panopticon's intrusive, ubiquitous gaze.

And so just as police view everyone as criminals, or the priest views everyone as sinners, so the paranoid warder views everyone as harboring guilty secrets that could threaten the state. Society thus becomes suspicious of itself, seen increasingly as an enemy to itself, one that must be under constant surveillance. The state, then, to feel secure, must attain increasingly omniscient powers of observation → which, paradoxically, creates larger blind spots → which then feeds its paranoia to increase its powers of observation. And there will always be blind spots in the panopticon. And it is in those blind spots that we must seek to create our own freedoms, to create our own Commons camouflaged within the Enclosure. As the anamolous is increasingly foregrounded, so the well-camouflaged is increasingly ignored. As Yale Professor of Anthropology and Political Science James C. Scott says in one of his two important books:
It is reasonably clear that the success of de facto resistance is often directly proportional to the symbolic conformity with which it is masked. Open insubordination in almost any context will provoke a more rapid and ferocious response than an insubordination that may be as pervasive but never ventures to contest the formal definitions of hierarchy and power. For most subordinate classes, which, as a matter of sheer history, have had little prospect of improving their status, this form of resistance has been the only option.

Secrecy — the secrecy of others, that is — is the warder's achille's heel. Because they cannot not know what is going on — everywhere and at all times — anything hidden from the warder's view is inherently suspect. And thus they create the need for those who care about freedom to hide, which makes them instantly suspect.

But therein lies the key — to escape the warder's panoptic gaze to form our own mutual aid societies we must not endeavor to go underground, for certainly the panoptic gaze is most attracted to those who wish to hide from its view. So our goal should not be to burrow in crawl spaces or underground lairs. Our will to disappearance must be to hide in plain sight.

Virtual Bridgebuilding

In essence, bloggers have already formed such societies. Within the huge universe of the blogosphere countless localized virtual communities are like ever-changing communal blobs that merge, bifurcate, grow, die. These communities are self-selecting as people tend to seek out their own peers, sharing common interests in which bonds are formed.

The only thing virtual about such communities is that they are not necessarily connected within a local geography. But the sense of community that bloggers can share with one another is still a very real feeling of allegiance, of belonging, with the added, powerful notion that such a community can transcend national borders and cultural barriers to span the globe. And as this feeling of belonging grows the group becomes more cohesive, where feelings of giving and sharing help cement the bonds of that group, even if it is just the giving and sharing of attention, of bearing witness to our attempts at articulation.

And this is where the limitations of the virtuality of the medium can be most keenly felt. As communities bond together they will want to share more with one another, to find ways to increase their sense of belonging, of giving. They may even want to find ways to translate this to the bio-regional dimension, where they can have concrete effects in their day-to-day lives.

And so the problem is always, for us, of how to move from the virtual to the actual. So long as we only visit each other in cyberspace we remain isolated, solitary islands of insurrectionary desire. How can these islands help and protect each other in concrete, meaningful, practical ways? How can those who seek practical changes in their everyday life — not to mention social change — move to the next level? It's one thing to create a secret (if paradoxically public) virtual network; but how can this translate into practical results?

Well, first by building bridges. And blogging has done this. But next the bridges must be used. We must literally walk across the bridge to meet our adjacent islanders. And this involves strategies of trust using credentializing tools.

Building Community for Social Change vs Building Community for Social Protection

Building communities can happen quickly — crisis and necessity, for instance, create them quickly: anyone who has taken part in helping after a disaster can bear witness to this. (For example, much can be said about how community formed in the wake of 911; and how, shortly afterward, such community building was intentionally thwarted.)

But if what we are after is something more lasting then we must abandon our notions of instant gratification and accept that, as Jon Husband says, "It takes a long time for change to happen quickly." If we are not willing to throw in for the long haul then we deserve whatever fate befalls us.

Building community may happen easily and quickly, or it may not. The important thing, however, is our belief in the longview that tells us that our efforts and dreams are worth pursuing. And so the first question we must ask ourselves is what kind of communites do we want to build?

Lawrence Goodwin, in his Introduction to The Populist Moment, discusses the difficulties in creating community that seeks to challenge the status quo. Such "protest communities" need to experience "sequential achievement", something that is almost impossible to achieve in most circumstances:
...evolving stages of achievement are essential if large numbers of intimidated people are to generate both the psychological autonomy and the practical means to challenge culturally sanctioned authority. A failure at any stage of the sequential process aborts or at the very least sharply limits the growth of the popular movement. Unfortunately, the overwhelming nature of the impediments to these stages of sequential achievement are rarely taken into account. The simple fact of the matter is that so difficult has the process of movement-building proven to be since the onset of industrialization in the western world that all democratic protest movements have been aborted or limited in this manner prior to the recruitment of their full natural constituency. The underlying social reality is, therefore, one that is not generally kept firmly in mind as an operative dynamic of modern society -- namely, that mass democratic movements are overarchingly difficult for human beings to generate.

Of course he's right. So the goal for us should not be to create a social movement to change the world, 'cause that's not going to happen.

But we do have the power and ability to change ourselves, and we can form our own connections to assist us in this endeavor. Underground communities throughout history were formed to protect its members from a dominant culture that abandoned them. So when a system abandons us, we owe it to ourselves to abandon the system. And the first step towards doing so is to reframe our own contexts and realize that there is an "outside" to the system one inhabits. Not to do so is to entrap our own epistemology into the context we seek to escape from. ("The most powerful weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed." —Steve Biko) Our system, Wealth Bondage, ultimately, is a shared social reality that we have internalized as the only one available to us. So long as we cannot conceive of an "outside" we have internalized the conditions of our own imprisonment.

Imagination and the Fourth Dimension

As Edwin A. Abbott demonstrated in Flatland, it's cognitively impossible to imagine the next dimension when inhabiting the current one: eg, a resident of the 2nd dimension cannot visualize the 3rd; a resident of the 3rd dimension cannot visualize the 4th. And yet it exists, even if only conceptually. And so it is with Wealth Bondage. Other culture's have existed outside it, and some are even doing so right now within it -- pirate utopias, bohemian enclaves, Iroquois long houses, Amish communities, ecovillages, Salton Sea RVs, NYC tunnel dwellers. These are successful communities you usually won't read about in the paper or find in the yellow pages. But if others are doing it, we can too.

We may not be able to see it clearly in our minds, just as a resident of the 3rd dimension cannot see the 4th; but though we may not be able to see it we can define it structurally and abstractly. For instance, a hypercube: a line travels along its normal (ie, perpendicular axis) to create a square; the square moves along its normal to create a cube; a cube can move along its normal to create a hypercube. And though we can't see it with our eyes, or even in our mind's eye, yet it can be defined simply and accurately, described clearly, and imagined abstractly — and thus we can understand it, and thus it can exist.

We can describe a world outside of Wealth Bondage, and thus we can know that it can exist. God is a real entity to those who project their culturally inculcated imaginations into the real world. But for those who dream of a world of true social justice and equality the projection of our imagination into the real world can effect real changes in the real world, rather than merely spread the memes of deleterious cultural phantasms. As the Church of the SubGenius says, "Pull the Wool Over Your Own Eyes!" Hakim Bey calls it Ontological Anarchy. We must attempt to imagine it. And the more clearly we do, the more it can happen.
Make yourself unstoppable; slide right through their defenses, by DIVING INTO YOUR OWN DELUSIONS. Pull the wool over your own eyes! You ARE SUPERIOR TO THOSE PINK FUCKS, AND YOUR KIND *WILL* PREVAIL! It's all a joke and GUESS WHO'S SUPPYING THE PUNCHLINE IN TWO YEARS?!? When you throw yourself into your own delusions, you can slip through any armor!
     —SubGenius Rev Pee Kitty, Pee Kitty's Rant

But the most daunting question is, though we may imagine it, do we really want to live it? So long as it remains a fantasy it's easy to give our rapid assent. But it's hard to give up our conception and practice of the everyday, because that's all we know — no matter how miserable and unfair, it's at least known, and, as such, comfortable. A beaten dog will return to its master because that is all it knows.

What would a life outside WB look like? A life in which our time and imagination are not compartmentalized, atomized, commodified, colonized and mediated. A life not of lack, but of plenty. A life of cooperation rather than competition. A life where work is play rather than a drudge. A life outside WB is one of integration, union, holism, gestalt, and unmediation. It is a life of plenty, connection, community. We may not be able to see it clearly, but we can define its structure.

Do we want to be free? Can we even imagine what that looks like? What would life be like without time and space quantified, atomized, appropriated and mediated? What would our imaginations be like if they weren't colonized by the images and messages of corporate consumerism? What would life be like without a fear of scarcity, without having to work at jobs we don't like, without the carrot of 401ks vs the stick of indigence in our old age? What would life be like with having our time be our own? if work wasn't a job or a chore but an organic part of our daily life? To have the leisure to walk and think, to delve into your own thoughts and allow them the room to blossom so you can discover what you think — without being bombarded from all directions to consume, to hurry, to wonder what you're not getting done because you're doing something else? To meet new people without having to wonder how you can mutually exploit each other for your own mutual benefits? To live such that life itself is our passion, shared with others who feel similarly?

To really achieve the changes we desire we must challenge many of our own assumptions. Change begins with our own perception, our own epistemology. And this is, perhaps, the hardest thing to do. Otherwise we are confined to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. After all, it's one thing to see with clear vision the problems we face; it's quite another to willingly shed ourselves of our comfortable ways of being in the world. Just as a dog returns to an abusive master because that's all he knows, there is enormous difficulty in removing our own shackles because there is safety and security in habit.

For example, we must expand our epistemological awareness, and social definition, of family. The concept of the nuclear family is wonderfully suited to compartmentalize and atomize social units into the smallest practicable unit, converting them into fortress islands of self-interest, constantly competing with others for their own safety, if not advancement. The nuclear family is ideally suited for consumer capitalism, since each family must consume its own products — their own tidy house, their own lawn mower, their own books, cars, bicycles, DVDs, games, power tools. You can lend your lawnmower to a neighbor, with increasing resentment, until you finally say no. But to actually share in the purchase of one? Or for five families to share in the purchase of one? Or the entire block? That's downright communistic!

Or, hey!, why even have a lawnmower at all? The suburban green lawn is an ecological desert. Why not use that bit of land for something constructive, like growing your own produce? Why not all the families get together and decide to share in growing their own food for their own entire community? This would unite them in a common cause, thus cementing the bonds of community, reduce pressure on the environment, and save everyone money.

Is such a seemingly modest notion even conceivable in our culture? Can we move beyond our culturally embedded notions of property? of community? of family? Are we willing to share what we have with others, to think along the terms of "what's mine is yours"? To move from a consumer mentality to a conserver one?

These are difficult and serious questions, and they must be answered honestly and positively by those who truly hunger for a life of justice and freedom. And they must be answered by all of us, together.

Like they say, hazy goals produce hazy results: You can't just run away from something; you have to run towards something if you don't want to leave your fate to chance.

As bloggers we still inhabit our virtual islands of floating awarenesses. In blogging we have found each other and have taken the first step in forming bridges between the islands. Next comes two great tasks — asking ourselves not only if we wish to create the world we ideally imagine we'd like to inhabit, but to ask ourselves if we can and wish to inhabit it — because such a world will look very different from the one we're currently inhabiting. It demands that we re-orient our mindset to new ways of being, thinking, and interacting with ourselves, with others, and with the world itself.

And one of the things it demands is that that we move from the virtual realm to the corporeal one, to actually see eye to eye, to have a mouth speak to a listening ear, for flesh to touch flesh in a handshake. If we are to see concrete changes in our everyday life then our community must be more than virtual — as important and beautiful as that is. Because as long as our communal parties remain in our minds, communicating abstractly across electonic fiber-optic cables, we will not know, nor reap the benefits, of the power of community in our bio-regional reality.

Given that our virtual community is scattered over great geographic expanses how do we do that? We'll get to that anon.

Reclaiming the Word "Faith"

                            ...Farewel happy Fields
Where Joy for ever dwells: Hail horrors, hail
Infernal world, and thou profoundest Hell
Receive thy new Possessor: One who brings
A mind not to be chang'd by Place or Time.
The mind is its own place, and in it self
Can make a Heav'n of Hell, a Hell of Heav'n.
What matter where, if I be still the same,
And what I should be, all but less then hee
Whom Thunder hath made greater? Here at least
We shall be free; ...
     —John Milton. Paradise Lost

Profounder words have seldom been as beautifully articulated. What some would consider signs of mental illness — say, authorities who consider iconoclasm signs of political illness — is the ultimate mental health. It captures perfectly the notion that life is as we perceive it: that we do, literally, create our own reality.

And we can choose the reality that we create. We can choose, by adopting the notion "act as if you have faith that faith will come" to create the world that we want to inhabit. We don't ask permission, we don't get licenses for it, we don't get diplommas or notorized, we don't publicize it, we don't shine spotlights on ourselves, we don't even necessarily think about it. We just do it with a sense of play and trust.

About that "F" Word — Faith.

That word has been hijacked. When many of us hear that word we think, along with Mark Twain, that "Faith is believing what you know ain't so," or, as Nietzsche says, "Faith means not wanting to know what is true." That is certainly one of its connotations, a connotation so pejorative that it seems to have become its denotation: to believe as truth that which is irrational, impossible and absurd.

Those who strive to live in reality with their eyes open have a very hard time with the word "faith". This is completely understandable. Our first reaction is to concur with this quote I once saw on some usenet shortly after 911: Faith doesn't move mountains, it levels skyscrapers. We fear, even hate this word — and for many good reasons.

It is a word that, for many of us, has been irretrievably sullied by its pejorative use, employed all too easily as a weapon by meretricious and sanctimonious xtians, wingnuts, demagogues and countless other historical scoundrels to either provide cover for their inhumanity and stupidity, or excuse it through their zealotry.

But we owe it to ourselves to recover the word. We can embrace faith, a faith based on the very reasonable belief in a better world, a world that we can help bring about. Slavery would not have ended without the faith of the abolitionists, as well as the slaves themselves, that one day such gross injustice would no longer be tolerated. It was faith in a better future that enabled them to live from one day to the next, even if the belief was for a generation to come rather than their own.

So we need to revisit this word, to reassess what it can mean for us. We need to reclaim this word, because it has another connotation. It can mean faith in something possible, and thus rational. Every time we get onto an elevator we have faith that it will carry us up and down without problem; every time we get on an airplane we have faith that we won't crash — otherwise we would never get on one; when a doctor prescribes medicine for us we have faith that he is serving our best interest and has the knowledge to help heal us. Having faith in such systems so far outside our control and understanding is a sign of the extent to which we have internalized faith in our everyday lives. This is a faith of the possible, and thus is rational.

Faith and reason is not a boolean, it is not one or the other. There are linkages, linkages that have been broken by repeated misuse of the term. There are two kinds of faith: the hard faith of unreason(ableness); and the soft faith of reason(ableness). One is unbending in the face of evidence and reason to the contrary: this is the faith held up as exemplary by fundamentalists of all stripes. The other yields to reason and evidence and allows it to grow and morph and travel as befits reality.

We cannot let this word become permanently co-opted by the forces of ignorance, just as the words freedom and liberty have been co-opted by oligarchs. We must stake a claim on it for ourselves, because we need a faith in the possible and the reasonable. Otherwise we have only a faith in the negative, in a destructive nihilism that would probably have precluded you from reading this in the first place, and would prevent any blogger from putting his voice out there at all. We blog because we want to connect, because we want a better world and believe it is possible.

And changing the world begins with changing ourselves while — or even, by — forming the kind of community we crave, amongst ourselves. When your society abandons you, you must abandon your society. And you do so by hiding in plain sight, using the political strategy of a truly wise, hardcore, radical and revolutionary leader: "Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar; give to God what belongs to God." (I leave it to the reader to transpose the word God to however they wish to conceive their personal and political affiliations.)

The Power of Self-Fulfilling Prophecies

One of the keys to finding a way to attain positive freedom is to admit the pscyhological and sociological truth of self-fulfilling prophecy, and embracing a faith-based notion that we can create such lives for ourselves. (I mean, it's only logical that if we don't believe we can, what's the fucking point in trying?) We need to create our own self-fulfilling prophecies, ones based on hope and trust and intimacy and joy.

I know firsthand the power of a reason-based faith when I effectively cured myself of cancer, purely by the power of my own belief in the curative power of my mind/body connection, a belief that I consider reasonable.


in which a concrete example of soft faith is discussed

I know firsthand the power of imagination and faith. I am a cancer survivor who had non-hodgkins lymphoma. Statistics indicated that I had approximately seven years to live from the date of my diagnosis.

I was a patient in an important, government funded scientific study exploring new and aggressive interventionist treatments. I was randomized into the control group — I would receive no treatments until my symptoms became life-threatening.

After a few years in the study I became symptomatic. Clinally, my cancer was now stage IV-B: it had metastacized into other organs, and appeared above and below my diaphragm. If I didn't switch to the other protocol to begin aggressive treatments right away my life expectancy was very short — a matter of months.

But I believed in my own curative abilities, in the power of my own mind/body connection. But I needed to ascertain if I truly had faith in those abilities to forego their treatments. I told my doctors, at the risk of being kicked off the study, that I wanted time to give them my answer.

For the next three months I practiced the techniques of psychoneuroimmunology [PNI] (amongst other holistic practices): I used my imagination, through visualization and guided imagery, to visualize my body making the cancer go away. I searched my soul (whatever that means), and I decided not to switch protocols to pursue aggressive treatments (ie: chemo- and radiotherapy). Of course they challenged my decision, but when they performed yet another bone marrow biopsy and lymphangiogram on me there was no evidence of cancer in my body. I had effectively cured myself.

Of course they attributed such a thing to "spontaneous remission", without bothering to investigate just how this had happened — even though I gave them my theory. Of course I was not an "expert", nor, of course, did I play a role in my remission — I was merely a patient who got lucky somehow. (The "scientific mind" at work, with a hard faith all its own.) But they couldn't deny that I had gone from stage IV-B to total remission in three months. And this is fully documented in my file as a patient in a governmentally funded scientific study of an aggressive cancer treatment.

A year later I became symptomatic again, and decided to pursue the treatments when, for a variety of reasons, I didn't find the faith in myself this time to risk going without them. But I still used those PNI techniques during these treatments.

But the point is, I had proven to myself, if not the scientific-medical community, that I had effectively cured myself, at least for a year, through the power and efficacy of my own imagination and faith.

And if I did it on a personal level, I believe it is just as necessary and just as possible to do it on a social level as well.

Illnesses run their course, regardless of the belief systems of those afflicted. But there is a mind/body connection, and I know firsthand the role belief can play in healing — as well as hurting. If someone entered our support group who considered their diagnosis a death warrant it was fairly certain that their belief in their impending demise would help bring it about. They internalized their inability to overcome their illness, and fulfilled their own self-fulfilling prophecy.

I, however, knew that I would beat my cancer. I refused to permit the possibility that I would succumb to cancer, and it has been twenty-six years now since I was given only seven to live, the past sixteen of them cancer free.

Though "faith" is a difficult word for many of us to embrace, it is possible, even essential, that we embrace a faith that a better world is not only desirable, not only possible, but that it is within our power to bring it about. Because that's the only way it's going to happen. No one is going to do it for us. In fact, there will be enormous and active efforts coming from all directions — including ourselves, with our ingrained habits of mind — to prevent it.

Simply, if you deeply believe something can happen, that belief may very well bring it about — if combined with action. If the faith is reasonable, plausible, and possible then we must adopt such a faith. But how can the faithless do such a thing? Isn't adopting faith an act of faith itself, something that goes against our very grain?

Not necessarily. One of my very favorite expressions, one that I find immensely important, is: "Act as if you have faith, then faith will come." This is how Erich Fromm believes "large-scale characterological change" is possible, and the only way to change a society in crisis.

Crisis as Communal Glue

When I used the techniques of PNI to overcome my cancer I did so by directly facing a crisis that was nearly certain to be fatal, but one that I refused to succumb to. I faced my crisis squarely, though I felt fear; and I found in myself the strength, the faith and the imagination to overcome it.

We find ourselves living in a state of universal crisis. But instead of facing it directly and seeking to understand and overcome it, we are asked to react with fear. Fear is a great way to mold citizens to the wishes of power. But we don't have to succumb to it as they would have us. During slavery — a time of unimaginably great crisis and fear for the slaves, obviously — many slaves refused to resign themselves to their fate, refused to admit that there wasn't an "outside"; they found ways, even through their fear, and through their strength and vision, to unite in crisis to form a community of escape called the Underground Railroad.

We need to internalize a sense of crisis our own way, to "pull the wool over our own eyes" but in such a way that is both realistic and life-affirming, as something Comic rather than Tragic. (Once again, here's Dr. Meeker: "Comedy is not a philosophy of despair or pessimism, but one which permits people to respond with health and clear vision despite the miseries the world has to offer." And again: "Comedy is a celebration, a ritual renewal of biological welfare as it persists in spite of any reasons there may be for feeling metaphysical despair.") What we need to do is to rechannel this crisis from ways that serve the interests of the power elite to ways that serve our own ends instead, to form bonds of community to face the crisis together, rather than go shopping and watch more TV. We need to make crisis our own, rather than theirs. We must learn to use crisis as a tool that drives us together, rather than as a tool that divides and conquers us.

An Example: Fight Club

The first rule of Fight Club is — you do not talk about Fight Club. The second rule of Fight Club is — you DO NOT talk about Fight Club. Third rule of Fight Club, someone yells Stop!, goes limp, taps out, the fight is over. Fourth rule, only two guys to a fight. Fifth rule, one fight at a time, fellas. Sixth rule, no shirt, no shoes. Seventh rule, fights will go on as long as they have to. And the eighth and final rule, if this is your first night at Fight Club, you have to fight.
     —Tyler Durden, Fight Club

Fight Club is a sophisticated political fantasy along the lines we are discussing. It raises many important points which bear greater analysis than the following brief discussion, but it can serve to quickly illustrate our topic.

For one thing, it shows how secret communities are formed through vouching and credentialization — which we shall get to. For now, let us assert that the reason why "You do not talk about Fight Club" is that Fight Club is a community intended to exist outside public knowledge and below official gaze. They do not advertise their existence, and thus the primary rule for inclusion into the community is the acceptance of this crucial rule. But obviously the community grows. That's because it is extended by self-selection — vouching — to members who must understand this fundamental rule, as well as understand the nature of the community they are invited to join.

Another very important thing to point out is that they overcome their resistance to community by building bonds of trust and reciprocity, which can only be done by overcoming fear. This is illustrated graphically through their initiation process which entails a liberating act of giving and reciprocity, in this case through mutually consented fighting. (With rules in place to guarantee trust, by the way — credentialization: "someone yells Stop!, goes limp, taps out, the fight is over" and "if this is your first night at Fight Club, you have to fight.") They have only a handful of rules to which all those who wish to join must abide, and those rules are specifically designed to create a self-selecting community that fosters fearlessness and trust.

One of the tools of social control, after all, is fear. Fear is the tool used by social technocrats to divide community through blame and get them to seek safety in the arms of some overarching political saviour. Just witness the extent to which BushCo and other such demagogues repeatedly emphasize fear, "terror", safety, security, and the search for enemies to blame. For community to form among atomized individuals who don't know how to go about it they must have a compelling reason to take a leap of faith in trusting each other. This is what Fight Club does with their violent initiations.

Of course community does not have to go to such extremes to form, but it helps. Crisis brings people together, it liberates them from the scripts they habitually perform. Thus we must also keep in mind, in the Comic spirit Dr. Meeker discusses, that we do exist in a crisis, and we use that awareness to bring us together, from the bottom up, in a spirit of mutual aid — not from top-down wherein "experts" and demagogues will save us from some fear-inducing crisis.

Also important to note is the vital role imagination and visualization play in the creation of the Fight Club network. The Narrator uses the tools of psychoneuroimmunology to change himself, and to change his society: It is only due to the Narrator's vivid imagination, wherein he literally visualizes his political guide/guru Tyler Durden — just when he needs to find a way out of his own personal crisis — that he is able to develop in the real world the insurrectionary community he hungers for. The movie perfectly illustrates the connection between psychoneuroimmunology, imagination, faith and crisis in changing one's world. In fact he is extending PNI from the biological body to the social body, creating what could be referred to as "PsychoSocioImmunology" [PSI].

There are divergencies, of course, between the Fight Club Tong and what is being advocated here, especially the cult of charisma that develops around The Narrator and consequent hierarchy that ensues in the community. Nevertheless, the lessons the movie provides are as profound as they are precautionary.

Overcoming fear; faith; imagination; crisis; vouching new members; credentializing trust; creating basic rules of membership; developing ways to permit (and expect) acts of giving freely so as to cement reciprocity (ie: mutual aid). These are the vital tools in the formation of Tongs.

What we are seeking is a kind of psychosocioimmunology — we seek to create a bridge between our society/mind, though vision, faith and trust to see us through our social crisis.

Justice Progresses — In The Long View

The truth is, Injustice is always destined to fail. Perhaps not in one's lifetime, nor even in a few generations. But at some point a culture reaches a critical mass at which it refuses to abide its systemic injustices any longer. ("Find out just what people will submit to, and you have found the exact amount of injustice and wrongdoing which will be imposed on them; and these will continue until they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress." —Frederick Douglas.) It takes a lot of effort to keep the majority of the population in fetters, and the greatest fear of the power elite is that one day the subordinate population will remove the rheum from their eyes and see the ways in which they are manacled, and they will see that they have the power of numbers on their side.

Social justice is inevitable. In our time, the world cannot sustain corporate globalization's grotesque injustices and insane exploitation of people and land — humanity will not permit it if it seeks to survive. There's only so long a society can continue to enslave and repress the vast majority of its citizens before they rise up and demand that they be allowed to live their own life.

Christians are no longer fed to the lions. Witches are no longer burned at the stake. Slavery eventually ended (in the US at least). Tortures and public executions are no longer acceptable. (The current outcry against these practices by the USA bears witness to this.) Humanity is evolving. But, as Gramsci says, "The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born." The economist John Maynard Keynes understood this when he presciently said "For at least another hundred years we must pretend to ourselves and to every one that fair is foul and foul is fair; for foul is useful and fair is not. Avarice and usury and precaution must be our gods for a little longer still." He understood that Capitalism's "detestable...love of money", and the grotesque conflicts of interest inherent to it, must continue until the economy has grown enough to satisfy human wants and provide the potential means for removing poverty. As despicable as the current phase is, it has succeeded in bringing the world together in a complex interdependence where people increasingly understand the need for harmony and cooperation — against the wishes of their political handlers. As such the new must be born quietly from within, hiding behind the paranoid defenses of the vicious vorocrats who will use any means at their disposal to protect their pathological quest to slake their insatiable greed.

If human society can progress past these uniquely difficult times then we will have surmounted our greatest challenge. The world is smaller now. The world is connected now. We cannot but see how we are all connected, and that we have a responsibility to each other. Any system built upon inherent injustices containing such glaring internal self-contradictions must inevitably fail. Things cannot continue along the path of neo-liberal corporate globalization — it is an ideology and a system destined for failure. But a flame is always brightest before it goes out, and what we are witnessing is a universal madness to maintain a system that the world can no longer bear.

→ Part 2 →


"And while I'm at it, I'd like a pony."

It's easy and understandable how the usually hardboiled realist would make some heartfelt wishes right now.
The New New Democrats need to study the calendar. Two years from now, they may well end up back in the minority, reading passionate speeches no one will ever hear to an empty chamber for the benefit of C-SPAN. Rather than triangulate or moderate their views, Democrats should take that two-year time limit seriously and go gangbusters, emulating Cheney and Bush's balls-to-the-wall style to pass as much legislation as they can before 2008. That means unraveling as many GOP accomplishments as possible. Cancel the tax cuts, close the torture camps, restore habeas corpus, get the NSA out of our email, yank our troops out of Afghanistan and Iraq.

It's high time for vengeance. Impeachment is essential, to cleanse our national soul, as a downpayment of good will toward the rest of the world, and because they did it to Clinton for far, far less. And we need investigations — lots of them. Special prosecutors ought to track down everyone, up to and including Bush, who lied about WMDs in Iraq, chose not to pursue Osama in Pakistan after 9/11, deliberately withheld help that could have saved lives during the Hurricane Katrina, and signed off on warrantless wiretapping of American citizens. Law and order starts at the top.

At the same time, Dems ought to ram through such long overdue (and popular) liberal agenda items as national health insurance, pulling out of the failed NAFTA accord and a big hike in the minimum wage. If any Republicans object, do what they'd do: call them terrorists or traitors or some other smear that forces them to sit down, shut up, and vote yes.

But, really, high hopes only create a longer let-down.
Then we have the about-face from Representatives Pelosi and Conyers, taking impeachment "off the table"...
⋅ ⋅ ⋅
...we can certainly adduce the Clinton impeachment proceedings as not rising to the level of offense that we witness from the present administration. The apparent contradiction may be explained by an about-face of another kind — it can be argued that it is precisely the egregiousness of the present crimes that insulates them from official scrutiny.

The Nixon and Clinton cases had a "housecleaning" aspect to them. Both were guilty of inside jobs, Clinton's being the coarser. As with any housecleaning it was possible to go on feeling good about yourself afterwards. Using the jargon of the banal commercial, "what happens here stays here."

This is not the case if the Bush/Cheney administration is thoroughly investigated. Planning, preparing, initiating, or waging of a war of aggression reaches the Nuremberg standard. It is a Crime against Peace, the supreme international crime "differing from other war crimes only in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole". That would be torture. Humiliation. Terror. This would most certainly not "stay here".

Instead, such an admission of guilt would sully not just the guilty parties but the abstraction known as the United States of America, its cloak stained for all time. There is immense pressure, much of it self-felt, not to let this happen. Politicians are around to the next election cycle [sic] and merely inherit the structure of establishment policy set firmly in place. There will be little collective energy for an upheaval that will shake this establishment. Sadly, for those seeking justice, it was all done in our name.


Our Historical Purgatory Between Tragedy and Comedy

Dedicated to the Dumpster Commune over at Wealth Bondage.

The Beginning of the Last Chapter

I came across this quote recently:
The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born.
     —Antonio Gramsci

Gramsci — ever quotable, ever accurate — captures, for me, in this one sentence our painful and tragic zeitgeist. This is the flavor of the curse of our interesting time. There's a sense that what neoliberal philosopher Francis Fukuyama euphorically considers "the end of history" (decoded as 'the end of the social' by Peter Lamborn Wilson) is, on the contrary, an epochal turning point: the current moment's seemingly ineluctable triumphant ascendancy of global capitalism may turn out to be its long, drawn out, and perhaps apocalyptic swan song.

One reason for this is that such a happenstance is inherently enantiodromic, a westernized tao notion, cousin to Hegel's dialectic, that posits that a force necessarily creates an opposing force — the more powerful the force, the more powerful the opposing force. (Eg: a slaveowner creates a slave opposed to his slavery; religious fundamentalism creates humanists opposed to their religious hegemony; corporate rapacity creates forces opposed to its neocolonial pillaging.) Neoliberal globalization — with its inherently schizophrenic and anti-humanistic ideology, with its grotesque and criminal Reverse Robin-Hoodism (ie: steal from the poor to give to the rich), with its evangelical zeal to commodify the planet — is creating an inevitable worldwide backlash opposed to it.

The flavor of the time is a strangely dissolute, angry, sad and tense flavor, like betting your last paycheck on one final spin of the roulette wheel 'cause you have nothing else to lose. It feels like everyone wants to gets off the ride but, like some kind of hellish Merry-Go-Round, it's spinning too fast and no one knows how to stop it. Sadly our species is so constituted that the ride will only end once the ride spins out of control or jerks to a complete and sudden halt. In either case the result will not be pretty: few will escape unscathed, including the ride ops and park owners.

Basically, the world knows that the system cannot (nor should) endure, but word hasn't spread, and solutions, though floating all around the ether, refuse to meaninfully coalesce given the staggeringly entrenched forces of greed opposed to a revolutionary paradigm shift that offers practical solutions to our dire situation. The neoliberal vision of utopia is inherently anti-human, based as it is upon an ontology of selfishness, conflict, and greed, and it cannot endure; but, as is glaringly obvious in our time, its beneficiaries will fight to the death — everyone else's first, of course, before their own — to maintain their power and riches.

We are accostumed to hearing that the "world changed after 911", as if that date marked the beginning of a new epoch. No. 911 doesn't mark the beginning of a new volume; it marks, rather, the beginning of the final chapter of the current volume. The only thing that changed on 911 is the intensity and drive of capital to attain omniscience and omnipotence. That's why we are seeing increasing evidence of universal surveillance and control. Capital unleashed becomes capital unhinged, demanding universal control and universal order to achieve its utopian ideal. To think that such an insane juggernaut would not be met by a reaction against it enters the realm of the fanciful. Which is why apologists for it, such as Thomas Friedman, label its foes things like flat-earthers — to protect their own belief structures, to dismiss heretics as madmen, and to preclude debate. It is a bona fide fundamentalist religion, one that seems to have entered its own eschatological ecstasy in its drive for global hegemony.

One of the problems is that the system has succeeded too well in wiring our brains to believe that people are not interconnected, and that nature is at our service and that we are its stewards. We are accostumed to blaming ourselves for our failures in life because we have internalized the bullshit of 'rugged individualism' and the 'nuclear family'. Atomization of communal units serves capital very well. Stuck in debt? Well, it's your own fault. Don't own a big house with two new SUVs? Well, it's your own fault. Stuck in a deadend job? Again, your own fault. Not happy, not financially secure, not enough time to spend with your loved ones, too fat, too stressed, can't make ends meet — obviously it's all your own fault, a deficiency of character, of planning, of fortitude, of that can-do entrepreneurial spirit you need to succeed. Why can't generations of urban poor just pull themselves out of the gutter? Must be some genetic deficiency, some inbuilt predisposition to laziness that prohibits them from magically knowing how to improve their station in life.

It serves the power elite very well to have people internalize their own victimhood. As South African activist Steve Biko said "The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed."


As the farcically christened "end of history" contrarily betokens with ever-increasing clarity, our world is not only ready for a paradigm shift, it requires one. And one of the most fundamental aspects of that paradigm shift is the necessity to rewire our worldview to embrace a fundamentally different view of life and reality: one that embraces a perception of reality as Comedy rather than Drama. Our mentality is still rooted in the ancient Greek's tragic view of life, a dour epistemology responsible for both the glories and horrors of Western culture. But this epistemology has led to an ontological cul-de-sac that is bringing down the whole world. Sadly, tragically, we haven't evolved all that much from Homer's noble but ineluctably tragic worldview of the Illiad.

Joseph W. Meeker, in his fascinating book The Comedy of Survival: In Search of An Environmental Ethic , explores the notions of Tragedy and Comedy and what it means for civilization. First, his thoughts on Tragedy:
Both as a literary form and as philosophical attitude, tragedy seems to have been an invention of Western culture, specifically of the Greeks...The tragic view assumes that man exists in a state of conflict with powers that are greater than he is. Such forces as nature, the gods, moral law, passionate love, the greatness of ideas and knowledge all seem enormously above mankind and in some way determine his welfare or his suffering. Tragic literature and philosophy then undertake to demonstrate that man is equal or superior to his conflict. The tragic man takes his conflict seriously and is therefore compelled to affirm his mastery and his greatness in the face of his own destruction. He is a triumphant image of what man can be...

Now his thoughts on Comedy:
Comedy is not a philosophy of despair or pessimism, but one which permits people to respond with health and clear vision despite the miseries the world has to offer. Its mode is immediacy of attention, adaptation to rapidly changing circumstances, joy in small things, the avoidance of pain wherever possible, the love of life and kinship with all its parts, the sharpening of intelligence, complexity of thought and action, and strategic responsiveness to novel situations. It permits people to accept themselves and the world as they are, and it helps us to make the best of the messes around us and within us.

Meeker then draws an interesting distinction between the ethical outlook of tragedy and the practical outlook of comedy:
Tragedies are events of moral consciousness where the central issues are good and evil, while disasters are physical and biological events which pose problems of endurance and survival. As awareness of disaster grows, we can expect to find ourselves worrying less about moral purity — or, at least, our particular view of it — and more about our responses to immediate threats. Perhaps we will spend less time trying to transform the world and more time trying to change ourselves to fit the world that surrounds us. Daily threats and challenges will focus our attention upon daily survival, and upon the coming imperatives of sustaining life even in the face of disasters. Comedy promotes survival not merely as a continuation of existence, but also as an affirmation of life and joy despite the disasters that may occur.

I think this excerpt from the foreward by the ethologist Konrad Lorenz nicely summarizes Meeker's thesis:
Dr. Meeker's central idea is that the comic mode of behavior is a geniune affirmation of instinctive patterns necessary for biological survival. My own observations of animal and human behavior have confirmed this thesis time and again. Destruction of one's enemies and prideful conquest of nature do not give life its deepest meaning. Reconciliation of opposites and adaptation to environment, the essential values which guide comic behavior, are necessary both to biological evolution and to the full expression of mankind's highest talents. Humility before the earth and its processes, the essential message of comedy, is necessary for the survival of our species.

"Humility before the earth and its processes." Isn't this diametrically opposed to every ideology in which we're raised? Eg: Christianity: "Humans, as Gods representatives, were to rule over nature as God intended." Eg: Capitalism: "The goal of production in a free market is to give man an ever-greater power over his environment... What capitalism offers...is, in reality, the best 'environment' for man: nature harnessed by industry and technology and used for man's benefit." Nature, it seems, belongs to us. We can even "own" it.
The origins of environmental crisis lie deep in human cultural traditions at levels of human mentality which have remained virtually unchanged for several thousand years. The premises upon which our culture has been built are powerful and durable, and their weight upon us must be appreciated before we can hope to alter their structure. Whether they may be subject to modification in the time available is unpredictable because we have so little experience of any such changes in our past. How can our culture change the influence of Homer or Aristotle or Moses or Sophocles upon all that follows from them, including methods of thinking and the inherited images which unconsciously influence human actions? The problem may be of this magnitude. Given such depth, it is possible that "solutions" are more than can be hoped for. Humanity may have to settle for the distinction of being the first species ever to understand the causes of its own extinction. That would be no small accomplishment.

Ecological crises are a result of Western culture's tragic outlook. Meeker is suggesting that perhaps the most vital aspect in overcoming the crisis is to rewire our perception — a task so monumental that it renders itself practically moot. But that doesn't mean it shouldn't be attempted. And that attempt requires us to abandon the peculiarly Western Tragic worldview that ennobles us to heroically conquer our problems. We need to heroically try another, non-heroic approach.

All of reality is filtered through one's cultural lenses. Tragedy necessarily adds our culture's ideological, metaphysical and ethical filters to those lenses.
Comedy, on the other hand, is very nearly universal. Comic literature appears wherever human culture exists, and often where it doesn't. Comedy can be universal largely because it depends less upon particular ideologies or metaphysical systems than tragedy does. Rather, comedy grows from the biological circumstances of life. It is unconcerned with systems of morality... The comic view of man demonstrates that men behave irrationally, committing follies which reveal their essential ignorance and ridiculousness in relation to civilized systems of ethical and social behavior...

It could thus be argued that comedy is basically pessimistic and tragedy basically optimistic, as tragedy shows humanity's potential strength and greatness and comedy tends to deny them... The tragic view of humanity, for all its flattering optimism, has led to cultural and biological disasters, and it is time to look for alternatives which might encourage better the survival of our own and other species.

Comedy demonstrates that humans are durable, although they may be weak, stupid, and undignified. As the tragic hero suffers or dies for ideals, the comic hero survives without them. At the end of his tale he manages to marry his girl, evade his enemies, slip by the oppressive authorities, avoid drastic punishment, and stay alive. His victories are all small, but he lives in a world where only small victories are possible. His career demonstrates that weakness is a common condition for mankind that must be lived with, not one worth dying for. Comedy is careless of morality, goodness, truth, beauty, heroism, and all such abstract values we say we live by. Its only concern is to affirm our capacity for survival and to celebrate the continuity of life itself, despite all moralities. Comedy is a celebration, a ritual renewal of biological welfare as it persists in spite of any reasons there may be for feeling metaphysical despair.

Tragedy inflates; comedy deflates. This is why zealots and demogogues of all stripes rarely have a generous sense of humor — it undermines their worldview.

Comedy is thus a deconstructive, bottom-up strategy. It is dangerous to those "in control" as they assign their battery of "experts" to solve "our" problems. Comedy is a strategy that requires us to open our eyes and see clearly, to evaluate for ourselves what the problems are, and to take our own steps towards solving them. It's a strategy that demands we take action for our own survival rather than wait for others to provide some magic bullet. It is, ultimately, an existentialist as well as a practical strategy, requiring us to take responsbility for ourselves.

Buy or Be?

The phrase "requiring us to take responsibility for ourselves" intends the plural possessive, for indeed we are in this together. Just as the comic hero saves his own skin, so the comic community saves its own communal skin. And to do this the comic hero must first realize that his self-interest is also the interest of his extended self, his community; and so this community of comic heroes must be united in their comic outlook. Strong and comic community is the only weapon that can succeed against the powerful "divide and conquer" strategies of power and greed. That's why illegitimate authority constantly seeks ways to prevent such communities from forming.

Thus the first thing we need to do is to embrace our interconnectedness. The creation of the nuclear family, of the myth of "rugged individualism", of the single-family home with its white-picket fence, are supremely effective ways to disband community and create the alienated, neurotic, atomic consuming unit. This has proven to be the ultimate success of capitalism's "divide and conquer" strategy.

Enough! We must learn to say "Ours!" and not "Mine!". We must learn to say "Our Families" not "My Family"; "Our Money" not "My Money"; "Our Home" not "My Home". We must re-learn to share, to deeply internalize as adults those kindergarten lessons Kermit taught us on Sesame Street. What happened to that simple, honest message — perhaps the most potent weapon against the forces of consumerism? How does that message change between childhood and adulthood?

Answer: through early indoctrination during our formative years in equating the formation of one's personality with the acquisition of goods to differentiate oneself from one's peers. We become what we buy.

And as our self-definition blossoms from our acquisitions — wherein we identify ourselves increasingly as a "brand" — we become increasingly absorbed in our self-definition and seek community with those who similarly define themselves by the items and images they consume. (Multiculturalism is related to this phenomenon.) Thus neoliberal "community" is centered around the notion of demographic clusters. Rather than experience community as something deeply meaningful, wherein actors feel connected to each other in an organic wholeness of mutual fealty and safety where one feels a sense of belonging — a feeling that those of us raised in capitalism cannot begin to comprehend — community becomes another consummable where people seek out their demographic clones by the clothes they wear, the conventions and conferences they attend, and the shows they watch on TV. Paradoxically, our growing self-definition by such means leads to our increasing alienation. As I've said elsewhere
If the society that creates us is inherently schizophrenic, inherently competitive, inherently based upon a notion of acquisition in which desire is synonymous with lack, inherently alienating and anti-communitarian, a society in which we are always on the make, trying to sell others, as well as ourselves, on our presentation of ourselves — what kinds of people will be formed in such a society?

Because our identity derives from the society in which we emerge we will adopt and internalize such messages in order to survive in that society — they become part of our very makeup as human beings. Consumer capitalism creates psyches that seek to isolate us from one another, to view us as competitors in a zero-sum game, a society in which community is inherently fractured.

Community will happen. Man is a communal animal. The form that community takes, however, is dependent to a great extent on the notion of ourselves as either creatures of acquisitive self-interest, or creatures who share out of concern for The Other. Erich Fromm, the existential psychologist and philosopher, understands this very well. In his book To Have or To Be? he addresses this issue directly:
The desire to experience union with others manifests itself in the lowest kind of behavior, ie, in acts of sadism and destruction, as well as in the highest: solidarity on the basis of an ideal or conviction. It is also the main cause of the need to adapt; human beings are more afraid of being outcasts than even of dying. Crucial to every society is the kind of union and solidarity it fosters and the kind it can further, under the given conditions of its socioeconomic structure.

These considerations seem to indicate that both tendencies are present in human beings: the one, to have — to possess — that owes its strength in the last analysis to the biological factor of the desire for survival; the other, to be — to share, to give, to sacrifice — that owes its strength to the specific conditions of human existence and the inherent need to overcome one's isolation by oneness with others. From these two contradictory strivings in every human being it follows that the social structure, its values and norms, decides which of the two becomes dominant. Cultures that foster the greed for possession, and thus the having mode of existence, are rooted in one human potential; cultures that foster being and sharing are rooted in the other potential. We must decide which of these two potentials we want to cultivate, realizing, however, that our decision is largely determined by the socioeconomic structure of our given society that inclines us toward one of the other solution.

It is clear which mode our culture fosters. And it is the mode that our culture is ferociously foisting onto the rest of the world, and which the rest of the world enantiodromically resists with ever-increasing ferocity. It is a mode that has followed a trajectory rooted in Western culture's tragic worldview, and which Meeker despairs of changing in time to save the world.

But Fromm believes that change is possible.
This assumption [ie: that we are capable of altering cultural codes] contradicts a widely help psychoanalytic dogma that environment produces essential changes in personality development in infancy and early childhood, but that after this period the character is fixed and hardly changed by external events. This psychoanalytic dogma has been able to gain acceptance because the basic conditions of their childhood continue into most people's later life, since in general, the same social conditions continue to exist. But numerous instances exist in which a drastic change in environment leads to a fundamental change in behavior, ie, when the negative forces cease to be fed and the positive forces are nurtured and encouraged.

To sum up, the frequency and intensity of the desire to share, to give, and to sacrifice are not surprising if we consider the conditions of existence of the human species. What is surprising is that this need could be so repressed as to make acts of selfishness the rule in industrial (and many other) societies and acts of solidarity the exception. But, paradoxically, this very phenomenon is caused by the need for union. A society whose oriented around having, and once the dominant pattern is established, nobody wants to be an outsider, or indeed an outcast; in order to avoid this risk everybody adapts to the majority, who have in common only their mutual antagonism.

As a consequence of the dominant attitude of selfishness, the leaders of our society believe that people can be motivated only by the expectation of material advantages, ie, by rewards, and that they will not react to appeals for solidarity and sacrifice. Hence, except in times of war, these appeals are rarely made, and the chances to observe the possible results of such appeals are lost.

Only a radically different socioeconomic structure and a radically different picture of human nature could show that bribery is not the only way (or the best way) to influence people.

That's the crux of the problem Gramsci refers to: we are in the very moment where "The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born." More and more people are aware of the problem; more and more people are ready for the "new" to be "born"; but people do not have the resources to know what they can do to help birth it.

Fromm posits what he believes is necessary to bring about incredible change in a culture's worldview:

Conditions for Human Change and the Features of the New Man

Assuming the premise is right — that only a fundamental change in human character from a preponderance of the having mode to a predominantly being mode of existence can save us from a psychologic and economic catastrophe — the question arises: Is large-scale characterological change possible, and if so, how can it be brought about?

I suggest the human character can change if these conditions exist:
  1. We are suffering and are aware that we are.
  2. We recognize the origin of our ill-being.
  3. We recognize that there is a way of overcoming our ill-being.
  4. We accept that in order to overcome our ill-being we must follow certain norms for living and change our present practice of life.

Well, if this is the criteria then I believe there is some hope, at least for an ever-growing percentage of people who see what's happening, and who will serve as the trailblazers for the rest of humanity. The tools and methods for this radical change in our worldview already exist. More and more people are doing them. But don't hold your breathe waiting to hear about these things on The Today Show — unless it's to mock them.

Let's quickly look at each of Fromm's conditions:
  • We are suffering and are aware that we are.
This is a self-selecting group of people, but not necessarily in obvious ways. Many people suffer without being aware of it — such people will often re-double their efforts on the treadmill, thinking it will get them to a better place. Also, many people do not even know that they are suffering as they fill their minds with distractions, unaware of their isolation. I would suppose that the majority of the world is aware of their own suffering. I expect there must be a certain amount of psychological dissonance for a great many people who do not experience the wondrous benefits of economic growth constantly shouted at them. Nonetheless, I believe a majority would probably fall under this category.

  • We recognize the origin of our ill-being.
Here the numbers drop precipitously. I would add that such an awareness entails being consciously aware in a way that is reality based. Blaming ills on phantasms — God punishing society for permitting licentious homosexuality, for instance; or that "liberals" or "conservatives" are to blame — will not lead to anything productive. I would suggest that recognizing the origin of our ill-being requires us to dig very deep to discover some of the fundamental causes. Anything else is misdiagnosing the problem, and will lead to using bandaids to cure food poisoning.

  • We recognize that there is a way of overcoming our ill-being.
Here the numbers drop off even more. I expect very few reach this point, other than the traditional placebos of "making more money" or "if only everyone was a christian". But growing numbers do recognize a variety of ways. I would suggest that there is not any single way, but a number of interrelated things that need to happen. Dr. Meeker suggests a very important one: to alter our epistemological outlook from a tragic outlook to a comic one. But that's only one path of several that need to be mapped.

  • We accept that in order to overcome our ill-being we must follow certain norms for living and change our present practice of life.
I'm assuming that if people have reached the previous conclusion they will naturally reach this one as well. But, in many ways, this is the biggest and most difficult jump. Just as with any kind of self-improvement, it's one thing to recognize the right way, it's another to do it. The space between this condition and the previous condition is the same space that Gramsci describes, the seemingly untraversable space between here and there, between the old and the new. This condition is the most daunting as it asks the most of us: It asks us to redefine ourselves by living in ways completely alien to our normal everyday life. It's one thing to think something; it's another thing to do it.

It cannot be emphasized enough — such change cannot happen by oneself. One may reach their own conclusions, one may even get themself off the grid; such an escape hatch may work for some people, but it will not effect change at a scale that will benefit society. The situationist's call to "think globally, act locally" demands that individual actors must get together locally first, must find each other and form their own communities on a local level. We are, after all, in this together. To find ways out together, we must literally get together.

Comic Communities Playing while Hiding in Plain Sight — A Brief Introduction

Hakim Bey, one of my favorite anarchist philosophers, suggests a way such a coming together can lead to such a vast social change. Here he introduces us to the concept of Tongs and Immediatism:

The mandarins draw their power from the law;
the people from the secret societies.
(Chinese saying)

A Tong can perhaps be defined as a mutual benefit society for people with a common interest which is illegal or dangerously marginal — hence the necessary secrecy.

⋅ ⋅ ⋅

Immediatism [ie: the creation of meaning done outside the realms of mediation, alienation, and commercialism] does not concern itself with power relations; — It desires neither to be ruled nor to rule. The contemporary Tong therefore finds no pleasure in the degenation of institutions into conspiracies. It wants power for its own purposes of mutuality. It is a free association of individuals who have chosen each other as the subjects of the group's generosity, its "expansiveness"...

If Immediatism begins with groups of friends trying not just to overcome isolation but also to enhance each other's lives, soon it will want to take a more complex shape: — nuclei of mutually-self-chosen allies, working (playing) to occupy more & more time & space outside all mediated structure & control. Then it will want to become a horizontal network of such autonomous groups — then, a "tendency" — then, a "movement" — then, a kinetic web of "temporary autonomous zones." At last it will strive to become the kernel of a new society, giving birth to itself within the corrupt shell of the old. For all these purposes the secret society promises to provide a useful framework of protective clandestinity — a cloak of invisibility that will have to be dropped only in the event of some final showdown with the Babylon of Mediation...

Bey explores the importance of "play" in creating communal meaning, of getting together outside the mediated gaze of "agents of alienation". This is akin to Emma Goldman's apocryphal saying "I wouldn't want to be part of a revolution if I can't dance", as well as to Dr. Meeker's emphasis on the comic worldview.

Remember kindergarten? Remember how kids become so absorbed in pursuing their own entertainment that friendships — communities — easily develop? How easily they create their own games — games with fluid, ever-changing rules? And it's not passive, mindless fun. They are not spectators waiting to passively consume some experience. They take their fun seriously — they are engaged in it, active creators as well as participants in the meaning they are creating. They band together and build sandcastles or lego cities or vast highway systems as a group, each with their own unique contribution. They do it naturally, with an easy sense of fun and ever-evolving community as new friends join or depart to other things. Kids who are really engrossed share everything they are doing: they do not need to be told how to behave; they continually change and adapt and challenge each other about the parameters of what they're doing, but continue to find ways to work together; though they may be focused on the minutae of what they are doing, they do not question the meaning of it; they do not evaluate what it means to be a community.

How can adults hope to re-kindle this engagement with life, with each other? It is possible. In fact, this is how many cultures live on a day to day basis. But such cultures do not write history, do not own the media. They live outside capitalism's gaze.

An even more important question is — would we even want to live this way again? The notion of living with such freedom, with such ease, with such play, is probably too genuinely frightening for most people. It throws out the rulebooks, it asks us to let go of our sacred ego, of the way we present it to ourselves and others. Is it even imaginable that a group of adults could get together and joyfully create for each other — for themselves! — real houses made of wood or strawbale instead of lego bricks? To share their land instead of their sandbox? To pool uneven resources yet share them equally? To create ever-fluid ways of resolving their adult versions of tag? And, perhaps most importantly, to extend the very concept of family from the atomic to the molecular? (And then to the cellular?)

I don't know. I'd like to think so. But I just don't know. It means jettisoning deeply held notions derived from our culture, and embracing things like giving, trust, and cooperation in ways we can barely imagine.

I'll let Erich Fromm have the last word:
I do not believe anything lasting can be achieved by persons who suffer from a general ill-being and for whom a change in character is necessary, unless they change their practice of life in accordance with the change in character they want to achieve.