Building Invisible Comic Community Through Interdimensional Travel, Part 1
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.
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 →