It is a tough thing, affecting some of us on the left and leading us to betrayal and “selling out”: whether to focus on the misery and discontent of the world—perhaps even extending to the question of whether life is truly worth living in such a world—or to ignore that “larger reality” picture and focus on our own, smaller, more manageable, more affectable world. In that smaller world, whatever is simpler, easier, whatever makes the means of living more accessible to us is what is right, or at least allows it to become that much more acceptable.

With a wide world view, one that focuses on all of the injustice and might even seek to correct it, and rejects all of its tools like patriarchy, gender binary, white privilege, rape culture, Islamophobia, and others, no amount of imperialism is acceptable: no sweatshop labor, no globalization, no corporatism, no finance capital, no collusion between elite classes for the enrichment of those classes to the financial detriment of everyone else. Also no imperialist war, no police state at home, no glamorization of international conflict or terrorism, no commoditization of rights of any kind (to be bought and sold), but the common ownership of such rights by the people.

But in what way is this struggle, save in the minds of its fighters who are few and far between? “A New World In Our Hearts,” is the name of one anarchist collective I have seen in New York. The idea of the struggle itself is invariably linked with ideology: communist, socialist, marxist, anarchist, whateverist. It is as though having a practical, pragmatic cause or quest in this world, that isn’t hugely dependent on complex and often old edifices, is dependent on accepting and indeed defending the status quo, and having no ideals that demand something fundamentally better. And to hold such ideas is to be “difficult.” To act on them can provoke all types of invective, not the last of which is “terrorist.”

Now let’s take a look at the smaller, more manageable, more “self-made” reality. All that matters is ahead of you, in theory, because society has been custom-made to produce those matters as life-goals: job, home, marriage, children, retirement.

All that you give up ideologically by focusing exclusively on the wide, pessimistic view is obversely included in this mode of living, the material and familial experiences that employment and marriage afford you: being a parent, having turkey-fueled holidays in the home, buying your first car, earning your first dollar, going to your first job interview, seeing your child go to her first job interview, an echo of seeing her off on her first day of school.

Does it make you a bad person to focus on this reality? This one is smaller, softer, more fulfilling (because the limits are tighter and more defined), “fitter, happier, more productive,” to quote Radiohead.

This reality is more conventional, and yet it feels self-manifested (“self-made”) because it seems so natural: raising biological children with a life-partner, raising them to be good and responsible citizens who contribute to society, to pass through the gates of society: preschool, kindergarten, elementary school, high school, college, employment, marriage, parenthood, promotion, retirement, death at a “ripe old age.” The always-present hope in any good parent: that the child will live better than I did, escaping, somehow, the raft of sacrifices I made, the ream of failures, of heartaches, of mistakes, and sail through life with 100% more boldness and success and ease.

“What’s wrong with wanting that?” anyone invested in this process, such as a parent or friend might say. There is a strange charm in it, to those of us who possess the privilege to witness it, let alone experience it. One such encounter:

I was sitting in Montclair, NJ, (where I lived from age 15 to age 26) eating falafel and drinking San Pellegrino in a churchyard where small children were playing, while church bells rang followed by a train whistle, and all of the myriad restaurants and cafe-type establishments were picking up that lunch buzz: the coffee was brewing, the french fries were sizzling, the air was hot, the sun was out. The little children waved to me and said hello before going back to their little children’s book on the green grass. lady stopped and asked me where she could get a good wrap. I replied, the little Greek place down the street. I sat fifteen minutes among the suburban bliss, and the church bells rang at the quarter of the hour.

Altogether, it was charming. And a little nauseating. These well-to-do people, drinking and eating and working and shopping at the Gap and voting Democrat, all while the CIA funds cannibal rebels in Syria and drones kill civilians in Yemen and Walmart sweatshops collapse in Bangladesh. And all of these people, including me, are benefiting from all of that, all of the benefits of imperialism and cultural hegemony and exploitation and murder.

It reminded me of how John Lennon was criticized for “quitting” activism and releasing “Double Fantasy” about obtaining domestic bliss. Other critics defended him, saying he’d done enough for the world and deserved his bit of happiness. I don’t know where I fall, but I understand both perspectives, I guess.

In the “small-reality” mode of living, where “family is everything,” the possibilities for material and familial experiences are almost endless: being a parent, having turkey-fueled holidays in the home, buying your first car, earning your first dollar, going to your first job interview. They may not seem like it, but all of these are largely bodily pleasures, since they are based on emotions. Nothing else is accomplished with them besides the event itself and the emotions that accompany it.

The small-reality view at least gives you a chance at these pleasures.Focusing on the wide, pessimistic view—where all you see is the negative and the misery and the injustice and try to fight it somehow—takes these chances away, and replaces them with the chance to see something positive done in your lifetime to affect the millions of oppressed people in the world. One legislative victory, for example, among the larger-reality type of person can mean the difference between eating and not eating for hundred, thousands, millions of people. Yet, there’s a good chance that you won’t see all that much, at least not what you REALLY want to see: revolution. The potentials of a smaller-reality viewpoint are a lot to give up when one considers that the means by which to accomplish them already seem to exist in reality, whereas fulfilling the larger-reality potentials require society to be nearly the exact opposite of what it is.

Plenty of left-leaning people celebrate Christmas, drink Coca-Cola, and have children. Even Che Guevara, and the singer from Agnostic Front, and Leon Trosky, and Joseph Stalin (for that matter). They all had kids. An anti-capitalist understanding tells us that having children is a means of perpetuating capitalism, because ultimately children are where labor comes from, and capitalism is based on a steady stream of cheap labor and needy consumers, and the more the merrier (which is why right-leaning types are against gay marriage, gayness in general, contraception/BC, et cetera, any sex that doesn’t produce children. They don’t know that’s why, but that’s why.)

I guess I don’t know. I have no plans to marry or have children. I may adopt. I just don’t want to bring another poor, frightened, doubtful, soul- and dream-crushed little white person into this world, one to whom I’ll pass all of my failings and fears and bodily defects. I’m no one special. My child won’t be anyone special. She or he won’t be “the greatest little guy/girl in the world,” or “an angel,” or any crap like that. She or he will just be a little starving zombie, raised again into an ideology of need and patriarchy. Blech. I say no.

But someday, what if I say yes? Will that make me a bad person? The average liberal on the street of Montclair might not be a bad person, because she or he doesn’t fully know better, hasn’t studied these things, never formed a “larger-reality” understanding (I assume; maybe they’re all sellouts too). But I have, and to turn on it and ignore it and forget it and lose it and “sell out”….that really would be inexcusable, and unforgivable.

Existence precedes essence. I have no escape. Self-affirmation must come in another form than the conventional. That’s all there is to it. I guess I’m a little scared. Of what? Failure, to fulfill an abstract, while the people around me have concrete goals, concrete purposes.

I guess I just need direction, and for a long time.

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