Category: Thoughts

Very recently, the student newspaper at Rutgers New Brunswick, The Daily Targum, published this editorial about the recent tuition freeze that was won by the students, who had the audacity and gall to aim their complaints directly at Jacob Zuma, the president of South Africa.

I largely agree with this article and offer my explanation as to why such things do not occur in America as well.

From what I can tell, the problem for student activists here in America is a lack of diverse messaging, as hinted at in the article. We seem to accept activism of only one kind from our prospective recruits: either radical/grassroots, or reformist/legislative, but not both. We can’t seem to strike a balance between these two approaches. State- or nationwide legislation-oriented groups butt heads with campus-specific radical groups, to the ultimate detriment, discrediting, and disintegration of both.

We don’t inform people, as this article does, that those who sign petitions are just as important as those who stop traffic with sit-ins, but we also don’t try to convince them that more is needed than a signature. We take no long-term strategy to unite both privileged students and underprivileged students around the issue of tuition gouging—though they definitely are both needed; we can’t expect people working three jobs in addition to going to school full-time to spend their one hour of free time per day tabling, though of course anyone who wants to should do so, or demand that people with no documents expose themselves to arrest—nor do we tie the immediate self-interests of students to the cause of fighting tuition-gouging.

Instead, we try to tie it to collective interests, to selflessness and “injustice,” but the pseudo-libertarian “personal-responsibility”-mongering trolls speak louder than us with their harsh, racist/sexist/homophobic invective to silence the masses and convince them to remain passively and individualistically selfish, and that protest of any kind is a waste of time, and that they should continue to watch out for themselves, even though fighting to freeze tuition WOULD be watching out for themselves and others.

We make no effort to first form a large-scale cohesive radical/reformist student movement that sustains itself after we graduate, based first on “little victories” like longer library hours and leading up to escalation tactics that could serve to challenge the university power structure itself. We instead (as I hinted at earlier) rely on short-term or medium-term successes that are often purely legislative in nature, that require only a vote or a signature from a student to win (and no other student involvement), and that often don’t win or win completely, and any benefits that are won aren’t seen or recognized for months or years, and the credit for winning them goes to the wonderful Democratic politicians who “fight” for us, when in reality we fight for them to do their job, and these same politicians would scarcely do 1/10 for us what we do for them, or bestow us with 1/10 the faith we place in them, in part because “the students” have proven incapable of remaining coherent, self-sustaining, and organized for longer than one generation of students at a time.

This is a critical explanation of why things like what happened in South Africa don’t happen here. There is not enough unity over who the allies are, who the adversaries are, what is needed to win, and what the true obstacles are. This is just my opinion. I love the student movement and believe in its inherent power, and will continue to fight for it, and fight against neoliberal austerity and privatization, against the social stratification, against war, and against the lies and condescending misinformation of our detractors.

After a long and occasionally ambivalent experience with Death Grips, seeing them live at Webster Hall on July 7th added only more thoughts and ideas to a long list from which I can derive no cohesive position of “like” or “dislike,” other than, “if it’s Zach, I need it.”

I have a fairly unique relationship with Zach Hill, Death Grips’ drummer. My old band, Rocket Surgery, opened for Zach at the Knitting Factory when he was guest-drumming with Marnie Stern on July 8, 2007. Here is a video of a piece of Rocket Surgery’s performance.

Additionally, here is an article written about that night from a blog called Don’t Quit Your Dayjob. It says some very nice things about me.

During Zach’s performance, “my mind was completely blown,” as the saying goes. I met Zach afterward and he and I discussed drumming and Plato. He was immensely down-to-earth, warm, and personable. He was the same way towards me when I saw him next, at his solo show (with Nick Reinhart) at Death By Audio a few years later. (He remembered me.) That night changed my life.

And that Marnie Stern show was also a turning point in my life in a way. Suddenly, my perception of greatness moved beyond John Bonham, beyond Jack DeJohnette, beyond Jaki Leibezeit, beyond Jimmy Chamberlin and Billy Cobham and Bill Ward, beyond Mitch Mitchell and Tony Williams and Rashied Ali (okay, maybe not quite beyond Rashied). These drummers would always be with me. But now there was a new essence, a new ideal, a new incomprehensible.

If you have not heard Zach, imagine drumming wherein the individual notes are played so fast and intricately, they almost constitute a “solid” sound. He essentially embodies the idea of a musician who is COMPLETELY a musician, who doesn’t give up his life to music but instead merges with music itself, his body becoming an instrument of orderly chaos or chaotic order, depending how you see the universe. You know what? It is easier to just look him up on YouTube.

So naturally, being that I believe no band on earth or in heaven could actually put his godly skills to adequate and complete use, I am both adoring and critical of everything he does. It is difficult to believe that anything happening around him could be as “good” as he is. He is Bobby Fischer, Harriet Tubman, Loki the Norse god of mischief, Rashied Ali, Orson Welles, Alexander the Great, Jackson Pollock, Serena Williams, and of course Jesus Christ, all rolled into one. I simply cannot be ebullient and gushing enough, because his level of skill—the degree to which he has tapped into the infinite—is simply so great. It starts to revive the now-dying Platonist in me, somewhat, and makes life seem, for a few moments at a time, intrinsically meaningful simply because such things as his drumming exist.

As you can probably guess, I am apt to involve my own prejudices and insecurities in any such critique of his music. For instance, I feel his solo album, Astrological Straits, of a few years ago was over-produced and overdone, at least compared to his work with Hella (the band for which he is most well-known other than Death Grips). I would have been much happier listening only to the tracks of his drumming, without all of the layers of synths, sequencers, processed voices, guest guitarists, and audio ephemera.

Part of me guesses that he includes all of those layers of sound out of some inferiority complex, as if to say to the world, with its narrow concept of what a “song” is, “I am a musician too, dammit, not just a drummer! I can make song songs, not just rhythms!” I probably assume that because that’s what I might feel, as a drummer, if I was making an expansive solo album.

He might very well bear no insecurity about his solo offerings. Similarly, he may not hold any misgivings about Death Grips, about whether or not it is “good” in any objective sense but rather that he is able to express himself in it and does his best at doing so. And that’s what gives it its value, its purpose, as far as he is concerned. Or perhaps he thinks it is of excellent quality; perhaps it fulfills him in every way. I suppose he wouldn’t participate in it if he didn’t. (Staying in something on principle? Again, that’s something I would do.)

What we do know is that Death Grips seems to be, by a large margin, Zach’s most popular act to date. Is this partly because of the extreme technological savvy with which they mount their publicity efforts? Is it because of a growing hiphop audience among young white males? Is it a sign that the indie rock circuit is indeed growing stale and boring and music-listeners are looking for a new “underground” sound? Does it have anything to do with the producer Andy Morin’s ear-crunching electronics that give shows a fun, dancey feel, despite Zach’s trillion-notes-per-second lines? Is it that “rock” truly is dead and must be merged with other sounds to relate to “the youth”? Or is it just that Hella’s fans, and fans of acts like Lightning Bolt, Melt Banana, Ahleuchatistas, Black Pus, and other “mathy” organizations, are simply swarming to yet another incarnation of what they like, namely machine-gun drumming and frenzied psychedelia?

I just don’t know. It doesn’t really matter a whole lot, but it’s something I wonder about. I’m not a music critic so I can’t really say with certainty.

Death Grips is nothing if not distinctive. I once read an interview with Zach in Modern Drummer where he says, “don’t try to sound like anyone else.” It is bold advice that he seems to embody to the fullest. Yet he is also highly collaborative, having participated in a long list of bands, ensembles, and guest appearances. I think there are many more artists who don’t think this way when it comes to sounding like other people; “lifting” and “borrowing” is as acceptable in “rock” music as giving chocolates on Valentine’s Day, or flowers on Mother’s Day. Which is largely fine.

“Great artists don’t imitate; they steal,” said Stravinsky. If Death Grips “steals” certain musical conventions—rapping, thumping dance beats, sexually charged lyrics, psychedelic feels—it does so in a brash, forceful, graphic way that directly engages the imagination of the audience, alongside Zach’s otherworldly, beyond-rational-interpretation drumming, to give everything a primal, almost destructive power.

And destruction is what it reminds me of, somewhat. Is it a grand musical statement, separate from “society,” or is it a tearing down of conventions, expectations, genres, AND society? Is it really a worthwhile use of my time trying to understand the artist’s intent?

Generally, I’m not a big concertgoer. I tend to think too much at shows. Also, I don’t like standing still for hours at a time, listening to opening bands that I didn’t come there to see, unable to move or leave (although I admit, I have discovered some life-changing music through opening acts. Plus, I know opening’s value to up-and-coming bands [like Rocket Surgery was]). I’m also not a big fan of encore songs. When the show’s over, I like it to be over. I’m that kind of guy.

The Death Grips show was ideal for me then; even though it started a half-hour late, there were no openers and no encores. It ruled. Also, I was not standing in one place the whole time. I was there in Webster Hall, bouncing, moshing, and shrieking my head off—letting out ALL the aggression—pretty much the whole time, along with everyone else. But the words, “what is this?” were constantly present in my head.

So what is it? The show is somewhere between psychedelic freakout, death-metal moshpit, and some of the most aggressive and fearlessly delivered rapping imaginable, from a guy who is super-jacked; Stefan Burnett reminds me of Dillinger Escape Plan’s Greg Pucciato with regard to stage presence: power, force, sweat. What it all adds up to is beyond comprehension, all right.

Maybe I spend too much time wondering if I like something before I can be fully “into” it. The complication is that I am very likely to like anything that Zach does, although I will often feel as I felt about his solo album; I could do without all of the ornamentation and just listen to his drumming. This is why I’d make a terrible music critic.

Anyway, I sometimes listen to Death Grips In spite of its lyrics. I’m not big on sexually graphic lyrics such as:

Ass clappin, dick suckin, lock the door to the bathroom – quick fuckin/
Find a whore and it could happen/


We could do this like an orgy/
In the bowels of hell/
Where every Lucy’s hella horny/
And their pussies don’t smell/

Both of those excerpts are from the same song, “I Want It I Need It (Death Heated).” Basically male fantasy painted with burnt-bright colors. I also have a problem with “I Want It” because it uses Pink Floyd’s “Interstellar Overdrive” as its primary instrumentation. It is not simply that they sampled Pink Floyd that bothers me; rather, it is that they used a song by a guy who had drug problems (Syd Barrett) to make a song about drug abuse.

I guess this kind of problem with a song makes me “sensitive,” “critical,” “old-fashioned,” or, god forbid, just “old.” I don’t like sexually graphic lyrics because they make me uncomfortable. Part of the reason is that, when I hear them, I am forced to ask, “is this misogynistic?”

I don’t like men talking about women as whores. And you just never know what the artist will say if you ask them what they “meant” by something like that. “Irony” is the deflector shield of all critique that might seek to reveal a prejudicial inclination. I give Zach and Stefan the benefit of the doubt, and I say, “okay, this is art, and art is what it is.” But my own tastes do not have to morph to find their rhetoric agreeable to me, no matter how much I love Zach. I don’t think compromising one’s principles just to be accepted into the “cool club”—people who act like they have no ethical compunctions (whether that is actually the case, or they have just learned to ignore them) and doesn’t cringe at violent fantasy against women or anyone else, because “free speech,” Georges Bataille, or whatever—does much to raise the quality of a person’s character.

I also listen to N.W.A. with regularity. And I don’t like when they’re misogynistic either. But N.W.A.’s music is, in my opinion, socially and culturally rich and by extension politically loaded because it illustrates a social and cultural experience caused by racism and capitalism, and demonstrates an emotionally rewarding “fuck the system” kind of mentality as an added bonus. I like that about it. Of course, it falls to me to infer that context upon listening, allowing me to see through the surface of misogyny and violence and bear witness to the “musical statement” (whether intended or unintended) that lies beneath. So maybe I just don’t understand the greater context within Death Grips’ lyrical content.

The question is, then, does Death Grips provide any similar context in which potentially problematic statements serve to illustrate a social and cultural experience? Possibly, and I just haven’t dug deeply enough. It definitely has a “fuck the system” feel to it, just by being so disruptive in its sound: Stefan’s relentlessly delivered lyrics, Andy Morin’s crunching, spiraling synthesizers, Zach’s superhuman drumming….although there are familiar aspects to it, in its totality, it’s like nothing I’ve ever heard. The performance-art component registered by the likes of Bjork is not lost on me. Just the ability to express such raw feeling musically, outside of lyrical content, is admirable and something I try to do in my own music.

Glamorizing drug abuse is another thing I don’t like. If you read this blog, you know I’ve had my own struggles with drugs, and you know somewhat my feelings about drugs in general: ideally they would all be legal, and no one would use them because their lives would consist of enough support, purpose, and fulfillment to preclude the need for artificial stimulation, depression, or escape.

However, I don’t want to fixate on the societal implications of music to the negation of the individual experience. As described on, “[Stefan’s] violent lyrics match his attitude and he focuses on struggle both versus himself and versus the world for inspiration.” Perhaps Death Grips’ message is located here: the description of a life which doesn’t afford him much in the way of support, purpose, or fulfillment necessary to cultivate respect for women or others or himself.

This is a state of mind with which many people can certainly relate. In a world in which the individual is relatively powerless, drug-induced oblivion, sexual domination, and basic destructive nihilism appear in men’s/people’s minds (and are placed there) as outlets for their frustration at feeling powerless.

99% of the people at the show I went to were male, and 95% of that group were white. So are THESE the people—white males—to whom society is most disempowering, most frustrating? Of course there’s nothing wrong with the white man liking the Black man’s music, but my next question becomes painfully obvious: does the white man’s “relating” to such frustration have anything to do with addressing or rectifying its source? Does it affect his outlooks, his prejudices, his proclivities, the ones that may very well contribute to the state of disempowerment that Blacks and other non-white, non-male, non-heterosexual people face?

My beloved Zach made a statement  about Death Grips’ 2012 album “No Love Deep Web,” whose cover image was a photograph of his erect penis with the album title written on it in magic marker (this link contains the image). “[The cover image is] also a spiritual thing; it’s fearlessness…it represents pushing past everything that makes people slaves without even knowing it.”

So an image of a white man’s genitalia represents fearlessness and pushing against slavery. I’m certain I’m not the first person to point this out, and it is difficult for me to even broach the subject because I am such a fan of Zach’s, but should we all seek to emulate the aforementioned phallus? Should we let it form our sensibilities, our values, our role in the world? I mean, a white member used for good would be a good thing. Maybe Zach meant that the white man, being the most socially privileged, possesses great power to overcome society’s ills but he must use his privilege to help others.

So the liberation of others—so they can stop being “slaves”—is dependent on the white man’s help, help which ultimately benefits him because it allows him potentially to maintain his privilege rather than relinquish it. Hm. That seems problematic.

So the white man must relinquish his privilege then? But then a white male member becomes, not a symbol of pushing, but of relinquishing. And IN SO RELINQUISHING, the white male is indeed PUSHING against the unjust system! Is that it? It might be it. I’m not saying it’s not it. I try to avoid absolute judgments as to a statement’s meaning, just as I try to avoid essentialist definitions of male and female and other binaries. I have a feeling this isn’t its intended meaning, though.

Never mind the intended meaning for now. I don’t know what’s in Zach and Stefan’s heads. What is the meaning that we can draw from it, based on what we have seen? Based on the image, on Zach’s statement, on the lyrics, and on the prevalence of white males at the Death Grips show, the “slavery” being fought against is some perceived slavery of white men (within, admittedly, a disempowering, de-individualizing system of neoliberal corporate capitalism), to be fought by whites, against…whom? Non-whites and non-males, NOT against those who perpetuate the disempowering system I just outlined: capitalist white men. So basically, let’s “fight the system” by swallowing our moral responsibility and completely assimilating to it: the oppression of non-whites and non-males by whites and males. Yay for the status quo.

I’m the first to admit that my deriving more political meaning from N.W.A. and less from Death Grips is based on my own interpretation. I hear N.W.A.’s music being about “creating respect within conditions of no respect,” as Ralph Cintron puts it: in impoverished, overlooked ghettoes and slums, the Black man does what he can to get ahead, including criminal acts, objectifying women, and saying “fuck the police” the entire time, knowing from experience that the white power structure is the real enemy. Maybe Death Grips could be heard in a similar way. Stefan seems to exhibit signs of self-disgust, perhaps caused by that structure.

Someone else might hear what Stefan says and interpret it in that way, indicating its subversive intent as opposed to the status quo intent I ascribe above. There comes a point, though, when saying anything at all—outright racism, sexism, and the like—could be interpreted by SOMEONE as liberatory in nature and defended by them no matter how violent, offensive, or retrograde the actual rhetoric might be. I am apt to put a limit on such overly liberal “interpretationism”; at a certain point, the artist must be judged by what is actually said. There aren’t infinite interpretations of words. There are only two: literal, and figurative.

There are those who will tirelessly defend the value of the figurative over the literal, and try to convince others that words can be used to mean whatever they want, whenever they want, and that if you are offended by the literal meaning of a word, you’re oversensitive and oppressive. It is usually easy to see, however, that those who regularly fight against literal interpretations in art generally have their interests tied to those interpretations. The white man might defend a figurative interpretation of the lyrics I quote above—find a whore and it could happen, for example—saying “never mind what Stefan is actually saying,” and asserting that a figurative interpretation can yield a liberatory meaning, something like, “when a woman becomes a whore, she is liberated to use her body and get what she wants from men! It’s SO freeing.” Just so happens that the LITERAL interpretation defends his privilege: that of being able to buy a woman’s body, to take out his anger and frustration on.

Being the person who looks for the “socially redeeming” qualities of art is not a role that I relish. I try not to let my thinking get one-sided or reductionist; I try to keep an open mind and not be dictatorial and absolute. Still, it’s hard not to be that person, at least to some extent, having studied the effects of racism, sexism, drug abuse, poverty, war, and other phenomena on levels of human suffering and disempowerment, and having been directly affected by them to varying degrees, yet remaining sensitive and angry that they exist instead of inured and desensitized.

At that level of concurrent awareness and sensitivity, it is easy to see that such mentalities pervade our society and are prevalent, and it is frustrating to see cutting-edge artists—including my musical gods—perpetuating them, whether out of irony or nihilism, whether out of “we’re just commenting on society by reflecting its prejudices,” or, “boys will be boys; whatever, it’s just a song,” when it just so happens be the case that the easiest way to really “get ahead” in music is to suit culturally prevalent modes of thinking instead of challenging them.

I get it; supposedly, it’s better and more democratic for art to reflect our reality than to try to shape it. People don’t like getting beaten over the head with a “message;” it’s easier for us to enjoy something when we can “relate” to it, when it “shows us ourselves” and how life “really is,” rather than trying to dictate to us how it should be. And people “really are” prejudiced: they really are racist, they really are misogynistic, they really are frustrated, etc.

I certainly don’t favor whitewashing and pretending injustice doesn’t exist. God no. It’s just that I think art can (and does) do both: it CAN reflect reality while pushing it to become better, as opposed to reflecting it in such a way (intentionally or unintentionally on the part of the author) that everything stays the same. It’s just frustrating.

It’s not that I want every band to be a “political band” (and not many things rhyme with “proletariat.” Lariat, I guess. Secretariat. Luke Perry’s hat.) It’s more that I feel every statement carries a political weight, and it would be nice if that weight was openly used for liberation and fighting against oppression, which I believe N.W.A. does, even while it expresses a lot of other bad intents.

I’ll still listen to Death Grips, still love Zach like an older drum-brother. I am very happy for him that Death Grips is bringing his art to a larger audience. I’m happy for Stefan and Andy too, because they are also deeply talented. Raw talent and distinctiveness should be appreciated more in our society, like they were when progressive rock and fusion jazz were becoming popular in the early 70s. In a way, Zach’s art is so technically advanced, expressing emotions so elusive and unsung, that to me it already signifies a positive threat to society’s complacency and conventions. I guess that’s another reason why no band is good enough for him, in my eyes: other artists dilute his message of absolute rhythmic expression with conventionality in various forms: lyrical content, guitar licks, structure….

Okay, so I’m biased. In the same interview I mentioned above, which is from 2006, Zach also says,

I want to change the world of my instrument in a large way. I want to get to the highest place with my instrument that I can possibly get and change the instrument for the better. I want to innovate. That’s what I set out to do, and that’s what I’m going to do, whether anybody’s paying attention or not.

Now, nine years after he said that, Zach does care if anyone’s paying attention, and he should care. He doesn’t want to remain obscure and avant-gardeist forever. I’m sure he’s got bills, he’s got obligations, he’s got hopes and dreams, he’s got to put food on the table. He wants the recognition damn well due a prodigious figure in the world of music, and he’s getting it. Death Grips plays to sell-out crowds; people are paying attention now. I’m sure Zach is proud of how far he’s come. He has succeeded spectacularly at innovating and is only succeeding more with each new album, each new project.

Maybe I just wish a person of Zach’s caliber could truly succeed in our society, and receive the deserved recognition and financial rewards, without needing to appeal to the masses, and the act of spurning that need and instead expressing the means for achieving greater freedom were what achieved mass appeal. Is that so much to ask?

And maybe it’s up to me to learn more about the musical visions of his collaborators, and determine that they, too, possess singular visions of greatness, as yet misunderstood by me. And then I might hear them playing together with him, instead of fragmentedly, “Zach, and everyone else.” I’ll work on that. But right now, if it was up to me, the sound would just be his drumming: standing as a statement on its own, leading the world forward and away from the mundane and oppressive, leaving “relate-ability” for others to concern themselves with, far behind.

Thank you for reading.

I haven’t smoked weed in eight years. That’s eight April 20ths, countless walks in the park or the woods, fifty or so new movies and TV shows, a few dozen parties, some rock concerts, a good many romantic encounters, and nearly infinite moments of just hanging out. And I’m still a recovering marijuana addict. I can never smoke weed again.

Why does it have to be this way? I’m not asking you why, because 99% of my friends (nearly all of whom smoke) will tell me, “well, maybe it doesn’t. You’re a lot older now, more in control. Maybe you could do it and it wouldn’t affect you as much.” The problem is, if it affected me 1/100th as much as it did before, that would already be too much. I’m going to tell you why.

The first time I bought weed, when I was a junior in high school, I got arrested. I was on school grounds, hugging my girlfriend near a bus stop, when two huge guys in blue cop sweatshirts grabbed me by the arms and lead me into the school building, shouting “DO NOT RESIST SIR” into my ears. Although the legal outcome was favorable, my relationship with my parents (who later divorced) was strained, and my girlfriend and I broke up not too long afterward. She was the first love of my life.

I hadn’t even been high yet, and I’d lost something because of drugs. The first time I actually got high, I was fucked up for a straight five-day period. I had to hide it from my family for what seemed like FOREVER. And then, after that, whenever I was in a darkened room, high or not, I felt a little baked. This continued more or less indefinitely; it still happens once in a while to me now, though it is no longer jarring. Weed permanently changed my brain; I’d never be normal again, so it seemed.

Right before leaving for Marlboro College, my best friend died at age 18 of a heart attack brought on by an unforeseen congenital heart defect. Needless to say, being isolated in a remote Vermont college where weed was plentiful was the absolute last thing I should have been doing while I was in mourning. Though I had many wonderful and formative experiences at Marlboro (some actually academic, imagine that), my addiction took hold completely. I was asked to leave to avoid being permanently expelled within three semesters. I felt like Lord Jim; it was only six years later that I forgave myself for what seemed like such a disproportionally colossal failure in such a short life.

While at home, my addiction reached its height: an eighth of weed every day, generally all by myself. I bought it with money I obtained through lifting my parents’ debit card in the middle of the night and walking to the ATM. I would do this one night, and then the next day would mark the beginning of another “bender.” I had innumerable benders. Entire days worth of time, gone. Never leaving the house or seeing a sibling or parent. Eating insane amounts of food (my best example: three bowls of cereal—one Corn Flakes, one Wheaties, and one Special K—at the same time, in three separate bowls with three separate spoons and one huge glass of milk on the side), inducing terrible asthmatic symptoms, being up until 6 or 7 in the morning each night before passing out on my bed, not in it, smoking between 20 and 30 times per day.

I described it to a friend years later who had had his own struggles with weed addiction, and he said, “it sounds rough.” I had never even realized how rough it was at the time. In general, I was completely unaware of its roughness. It was just what I did. I had no control over the objective of smoking; that was always a given. At first, though, I could at least control the conditions surrounding it. By that, I mean I could control the scene in which I did drugs to optimize the drug experience. Let me describe it a little bit for you.

A large bedroom with pictures and posters on the wall of things like Syd Barrett, Vincent van Gogh, and my own abstract art. Bookshelves filled with books, like Ginsberg, Burroughs, Wilde, deQuincie, Cocteau, and Joris-Karl Huysman. A tripped-out Persian rug, decorated with swirling flowers and leaves. Gentle incandescent light, coupled with Christmas lights and red lightbulbs here and there for warm, inspiring ambience. A desk with notebooks and a typewriter, inkwell, and mathematical instruments. A beanbag chair, small cushions, and a little table on the floor, for guests with similar interests to really settle in and absorb an opium den-like drug experience, provided in one of my many handmade intake devices, with names like The Rumbler, or The Teapot Dome Scandal. And of course music: Pink Floyd (“Piper” through “Wish,” no “Wall”), King Crimson, Miles Davis, Velvet Underground, druggy classics. It was great.

There was a time when I could sit in my little drug den—on the floor, on the rug—and imbibe my poison with the air of sublimity, the hope of inspiration, the cure of avoidance, the safety of oblivion, and produce little gems of creativity whose value was in their own existence. That was the reason behind smoking. But even this level of control, this semblance of reason, went away.

My room grew disastrous, overtaken with stacks of books and unfinished projects. Ultimately, my setting was inconsequential. After getting caught smoking by my father a few times, the only thing that mattered was *not* getting caught, while being able to smoke as much as possible with impunity, in order to maintain that “whatever, it’s all good” feeling. I would hold my hits in for as long as I could, producing virtually no leftover smoke at all. Very economical; doing so gets you really fucked up. The less oxygen to the brain, the better. Through open windows, under blankets, in the bathroom with the shower and fan running, outside during the day. And then, late at night, it was safe to smoke freely in my room, because everyone was asleep. You see, I lived on the first floor, and everyone else in the house slept upstairs. I was isolated.

The “guests” I referenced earlier were eventually rendered fictitious. Nearly all friendships based on drug use degrade over time, on top of the general spreading-out of your old buddies when everyone but you is (still) in college. So I was alone. I’d never been averse to smoking alone; I’m an alone type of guy. Every decision is your own, no one can limit your fancy.

But that’s actually what drugs do. They limit your decision-making; they take away your ambition and inspiration. That’s what happened to me; after only three or so years of smoking, I was completely lost to it.

When there was weed in the house (and rarely did a week pass before I got some more), there was no decision. No matter what other things I’d gotten into in that brief weed-free meantime—novel-writing, community college, seeing my mother, playing music, recovering from asthma—weed was always the end result. It was always coming back into my life, no matter how crumbled and disheveled my life was when it left. And whatever I’d been involved in took a backseat, or left the metaphorical vehicle entirely. When I had weed, I planned to smoke it at the first chance I could get. And then, when that chance came, I smoked up whether I actually wanted to or not.

Days, lost. Hours and hours. Soon, I don’t think I was even producing any little gems of creativity anymore. All I was doing was trying to disappear from this earth, hoping that I’d smoke up, put on my headphones with a long, drugged-out song on, close my eyes, and open them to another reality where I didn’t have to be aware of my own slow death. Unlike this one. I realized at one point or another that, were I to succeed, I’d be insane: a useless, deranged shell of my former self back on earth, a burden to my family, dead in every practical sense, but not in the ground. That would be irresponsible and unfair, and would hurt them all.

I decided that I needed to cut back or quit. I would purchase some weed with the explicit plan to only smoke “some” of it. Laughable, a non-strategy. Or, I would just “stop buying,” and then suddenly, miraculously, my friends would appear with their own weed, to repay me for the countless times I smoked them up (which I always did just to fend off being alone yet again. I hated when they would leave). And then, being “off the wagon” yet again, I would just buy some of my own, to prolong the illusion after they left, the illusion that I was not alone, that I enjoyed this particular activity, that I was not sad and will-less. I wrote and signed abstinence contracts to myself—with wording like, “I, Mark Ludas, will not smoke for one week,” and other such “decisions”—that were all violated. Nothing worked. Abstract reasoning—the feeling that “I need to cut back or quit because I just do”—was not holding up. I needed something concrete.

There was one thing in my life that I knew I cared about other than weed, and that was writing. I was in the midst of writing a novel, which I never worked on while high. Each bender took a week away from me. Soon, I noticed it became harder and harder to get back into the flow of the narrative. Part of the trick of writing a novel is remembering all of the dynamics that you have in place, the processes you have going, the meanings of this and that symbol or action. If you lose those threads, which happens easily if you stay away too long, the writing can become obsolete; you’ve become a different person in the meantime, even if it’s only a week, or a month.

I realized I was being faced with a choice: life, or weed. Life meant writing; weed meant slow and terrible destruction and the loss of everything I loved, wanted, cared about in life. Essentially, I was choosing between life and death.

I decided I would not smoke again until the novel was finished. I was about 300 pages into it. There were over 600 when I was done. When I wrote the words “The End” onto that final sheet of paper, it was unlike any high I’d ever experienced. I fell to my knees in my backyard where I’d been writing, and looked all about me, at the sky, the sun, the grass, the trees. I listened to the engines of cars driving past my suburban house. It felt absolutely amazing, an otherworldly sense of joyous and teary-eyed incredulity, as though I couldn’t believe I’d done it. Would it be the next “Great Gatsby”? Who cares? I’d finished it. Who else did I know who had finished a 600-page semi-autobiographical novel of literary fiction? No one.

I never smoked again after that. Nor did I ever finish another novel. Lots of stories, essays, and other short works, but nothing of the same magnitude, the same ambition. Suffice it to say, when my father died a few years later, I was again deprived of all clarity, direction, aim, but the drug was not weed; it was loss. And that’s the drug I’m still struggling with now. Imagine if I’d been smoking throughout this time. There would be no self-awareness. Only denial and oblivion. No hope, only darkness, fear, escape. I’d probably be dead.

To be honest, I’m often mired in these things—darkness, fear, etc—in my weed-free life. I’m often hesitant, fearful, insecure; it feels like I have no direction. This is simply a condition of life, I suppose. What is the hopeful, inspirational message to be derived from my story? Be one with your own destruction; create it, make it, and aim it through your own reticle. Ruin your life and alienate your family with your decisions, not your indecision; with your principles, not your self-indulgences. That’s far superior. Take responsibility; know that your failings matter, your faults exist, your fears hold you back from reaching your true potential. Don’t pretend they don’t. But at least it is a fear holding you back; not a drug, making you feel like fear is superfluous because “everything is cool” and nothing really matters. Unfortunately, in this life, fear and insecurity are necessary. Fear is the only instinct that tells what you need to overcome.

That’s all drugs do, ultimately; they allow you to feel like nothing matters. They make a chaos of your life, to imitate your inner state. At least when you’re sober, you’re free, whether to succeed or fail. It’s better than being a slave to a false reality. Get out of your privileged little world and face the truth: this world sucks, and only you can change it. Only you can fight the injustices that create such a boring, shitty world that compels people to do drugs and commit crimes; you can improve it, whether for everyone or at least just for yourself. Drug addiction and alcoholism exist for a reason: to disengage the passionate, and to blunt the ambitions of unconventional thinkers. They provide a way for humans to self-dehumanize, and prolong our implied consent for a bullshit society.

Imagine a world in which life is fair, in which ambitions are unnecessary, in which everything is taken care of, everything just works out for the best and people get what’s coming to them, and people are content with that. That’s what the world should be. Instead, it is a drug-induced fantasy. More specifically, it is the fantasy of consumerism in general. Every company that produces anything wants you to believe that buying their product will bring your world into better alignment with this fantasy. You have to be “the best you possible,” and only buying more crap can accomplish it. Nothing is ever enough. When it comes to drug abuse, only buying more drugs will prolong the fantasy that “everything is cool.” That kind of contentment is a sad refuge of the underachiever. If it was up to me, there would be no drugs, and everything would be cool and just in real life.

I’m aware this is an extreme viewpoint. I intend it more as a line of thinking worth investigating. Maybe some drug use is not that big a deal, and I certainly don’t endorse the illegality of drugs. Drug users need prevention and treatment, not imprisonment and having their lives ruined even further. Additionally, if I was hard-line against weed—if I discriminated against it—I’d probably gravitate back towards it or other drugs just because it was forbidden. Deny yourself something because of a practical purpose—such as, “I’ve lost control and it’s ruining my life”—and you’ll be fine. But apply that practical purpose to a universal truth, and be prepared for a harder time. Just ask a Catholic priest.

Nowadays, I use humor to sublimate and express my former relationship with weed. Not all the time; just sometimes. It would get old really quick if, when my roommates and I are getting ready to go somewhere, I was *always* saying things like, “No one wants to smoke a bowl before we go?” for the easy chuckle. But it helps me to joke about it.

I can also say that, contrary to the “gateway drug” theory, my experiences with weed actually kept me from ever trying certain hard drugs. Though I had multiple opportunities to try cocaine and heroin, I never did. I knew that if I could develop a life-threatening addiction to weed—a physical addiction in nearly every sense—I could easily do the same with the harder stuff. And any level of decision-making I still possessed would be even more eroded, my identity even more detached. It just was never worth it.

My years as a druggie were not well-spent, but I don’t really regret them. They helped make me the person that I am today. Being rootless and lost is not a result of doing drugs; it’s the response of my generally easygoing temperament to losing a best friend and a father. And, to that father’s domineering personality. I felt oppressed and hurt as a young person, and weed was a relief, an escape, a validation of my own thoughts to their most extreme and maximum expression. I think it serves that purpose for a lot of people, and I wish there was a way I could say to them, as adults, “you’ve made it, you’re free,” and have it be true. But to too many of them, it isn’t. Too many of them believe they simply aren’t meant to strive, to envision great things for themselves or from themselves, to overcome adversity, to feel safe and stable. Weed continues to take away their desire for these things, and that’s what they use it for.

If only all things that have this effect—of taking away our own choice, whether to replace it with someone else’s or nothing at all—could be overcome and purged from this earth, not by authoritarians who would banish it on our behalf, but by becoming obsolete and forgotten amidst the bustling future of our own making, the promise of faith in ourselves.

Note: the names of specific groups have been changed to prevent unnecessary drama. Not that anyone reads this blog but still…

Recently, in my political group, Group A, we discussed the tactics of the United Front and its slightly deranged cousin, the Popular Front. A United Front is defined as an alliance of similarly-thinking groups, which excludes capitalist or non-working class groups and parties, to obtain a common goal. Groups who may disagree on a host of other issues are then able to work together. A central advantage of this tactic for smaller groups is that they gain greater access to the masses by allying with the larger groups.

A Popular Front, by contrast, is a such a group which includes those capitalist and non-working class groups in an attempt (seemingly) to widen the struggle and obtain greater success. Anticapitalists working alongside capitalist political parties like Democrats or Libertarians (which often comprise the largest group) have repeatedly, throughout history, led to the undermining of the revolutionary movement either because, a) the non-working class capitalist parties weren’t willing to go beyond the original common goal and seek the destruction of their own social system upon which their comfortable existence is dependent, or, according to Group A and most every other Trotskyist group, b) Stalinism brought about the dilution of the revolutionary fervor by coercion, co-optation, or basically selling out to pro-capitalist forces.

The three most common examples of a United Front gone Popular—and leading to the subsequent undermining of the otherwise imminent revolution—is Germany in the 1920s and France and Spain in the 1930s. In all of these cases, reactionary behavior on the part of the capitalists or Stalinism (or both) is to blame. In the case of Spain, the anarchists embraced the Popular Front put forth by the USSR under Stalin, in order to continue receiving Soviet weapons in exchange for Spanish gold. So there is an example in which the USSR’s military superiority allowed it to degrade the revolutionary potential of another country in order to maintain that country within its sphere of influence, rather than allowing it grow and develop as its own socialist country.

Obviously, this account depicts the USSR in a very negative light, an imperialistic light. I know of several folks who would defend the USSR and counter that Trotsky and his various supporters have done more to undermine the cause of communism/socialism throughout the world simply by facilitating the vilification of the USSR and communism in general through obstreperous critique. They see such rhetoric as counterrevolutionary. I’m not here to contribute my “take” on this issue, and frankly I’m not even sure how relevant it is to the revolution today.

What I would like to ask is, why is United Front seemingly held up as a main tactic by the organized radical Left today, when it has failed so many times in history to succeed? It has created the conditions BY WHICH “Stalinists” or whatever class enemies exist to co-opt and undermine any revolutionary potential. The United Front is corrupted and replaced with the Popular Front. It has happened again and again. Maybe there are great examples that I am missing but it sure seems like every time it’s the same old story: “We had a great United Front going and then, ALL OF A SUDDEN, it was corrupted and turned into a Popular Front! WHAT THE HELL MAN?!”

The whole idea of creating a “Front” is to widen the struggle, increase the number of people involved, and strengthen resolve around one or two main issues or goals, which is important because socialist groups tend to be fixated only on the goal of “socialism,” which in their estimation is the answer to everything and whose lack is the cause of all of society’s ills (which I actually largely agree with). Being against everything in society (as I also am, basically) sometimes makes their struggle seem and feel unfocused in terms of its material objectives. So a United Front, organized around one issue like war, racism, labor difficulties, or police brutality is undoubtedly useful.

But what happens when we join hands with people with whom we ideologically disagree? The best example I can think of is Group A working with the (much larger) Group B on issues like antiwar. Group B has endorsed Democrats. It has supported figures in Asia and the Middle East that Group A would never support. It is essentially an ideological adversary of Group A. When the theoretical “revolution comes,” Group A and Group B will be fighting each other for dominance of their ideology, and guess which side will win? The currently 65-member Group A, or 700+ member Group B? And what will happen to the great, wonderful United Front that brought us to this highly theoretical point? It will (from Group A’s perspective) be “corrupted,” because Group B is bigger, has more resources, and has more international allies (like some of those Asian and Middle Eastern figures).

Even now, the larger demonstrations that Group B organizes, and which Group A endorses as part of the United Front, often produce friction between the two groups. Group B folks hold up pictures of Bashar al Assad, while Group A and plenty of other groups would never endorse such a divisive figure. It is my opinion that Group B is so much larger partly because it provides black-or-white, for-or-against (“you’re pro-Assad or you’re pro-imperialism, you’re pro-North Korea/China/Iran/etc, or you’re pro-imperialism”) positions for people to take, which are more appealing to your “average” revolutionary than “middle of the road” approaches such as Group A’s, largely because such positions are more actionable. To be fair, from this perspective, Group B is more effective—“gets more shit done,” in its own words—because of these less idealistic positions.

I’m not saying there is no validity to supporting Syria, China, et cetera to some degree, nor should popular hyperbolic anti-Stalin or anti-USSR rhetoric be accepted without question. Indeed, Group A is a big fan of Lenin, as is Group B. Again, my goal is not to critique Group A or Group B in particular. It is draw attention to the intrinsic flaw of the United Front as a tactic, one for which it needn’t necessarily be abandoned but for which it must be critiqued: it creates the material conditions by which it completely fucks itself over. We can’t expect groups who only agree on abstractions (“Socialism yes! Capitalism no!”) to work effectively or sustainably together when they disagree on so many particulars. Can we?

So what is the answer? To not work together? Small groups like Group A risk complete irrelevance if they eschew the types of large-scale demonstrations and actions that Group B puts together. On the other hand, Group B is irrelevant compared to the Democratic Party or similar reformist (read: massive) groups like Al Sharpton’s National Action Network. So how does Group B maintain any relevance or appeal, except by working with pro-capitalist groups and espousing harsh for-or-against binaries?

The radical Left has been asking the same question for some time: by what means do we maintain relevance? Is it the labor movement? The Black Lives Matter movement? The antiwar movement? The student struggle? But “relevance” is the wrong question. The question should be, how do we help people? Whom are we helping, and do they WANT our help? Is our “help” based on an understanding of the class dynamics in place, the material conditions? What good is an understanding of dialectics if we continue to work against other “socialists”?

On a deeper level, though we would accuse another group of fighting to preserve the current system, does our fight depend on preserving a system of perceived resistance that is flawed, oppressive, and counterrevolutionary (I’m talking about unions now)? Is it, again, a situation in which we feel we must defend whatever nominally or symbolically socialist groups and structures that are in place, no matter how flawed they are, because “they’re the best we’ve got”?

To be honest, I don’t know. But a new paradigm is needed. The consumeristic march forward continues unabated. Anti-union and austerity measures are on the rise. Voter turnout is low: 40 to 50% of Americans either do not care enough about the outcome of elections, or don’t feel any candidate sufficiently represents their interests, to take part in them. Ignorance and apathy are two sides of the same coin, much like Democrats and Republicans. And as long as people can get a new iPhone, car, or huge-screen TV, there is just not enough hardship for them to rise up against; no amount of talking about the oppression of Palestinians, the murder of young Black men, or oil wars in the Middle East will change that. They are hardened, they are calcified, they are determined. It’s a cynical viewpoint but there is some realism to it.

But I’ll admit, maybe it’s just me. I’m feeling a little lost these days.

Maybe there is no need for an entirely new paradigm. Maybe the current one just needs to be reimagined. I guess I’ll talk to a few people and get to work on that.

[rough translation: “truth is correspondence between blank slates and intellect”]

Just now I was reading Naomi Klein’s book, The Shock Doctrine, when a specific passage struck me: “It was as if the confusion from sensory deprivation partially erased their minds, and then the sensory stimuli rewrote their patterns.”

Called “psychic driving” and “depatterning” by its progenitors, such techniques used sensory deprivation, electroshock therapy, and repetitive recorded messages to completely obliterate a person’s sense of self and replace it with a new “self.” For the purpose of creating the perfect spy or of extracting information from prisoners, complete subjugation of the subject represented the height of human ambition to the anticommunist, CIA-backed forces that funded its development. The induced mental regression to an infantile level produced a veritable “blank slate,” or tabula rasa, creating the conditions by which the “patient” becomes totally accepting of whatever new “patterns” the “doctor” felt like imposing on her. This government-sanctioned operation came to be known as MKUltra.

It is odd to say, but the idea of having my “patterns rewritten” has a certain appeal to me. I don’t know if it is the idea of being non-responsible for myself that appeals to me on some primal level, but more than that, what mindfully appeals to me about it is the idea of having all of the “patterns” about myself that I don’t like removed and replaced with patterns that I DO like.

For instance, shyness. Who wants to shuffle through life with a burden of unfounded fear falling around his shoulders like a sweaty shawl in summertime? I’d like to have that pattern removed and replaced with outgoingness; not that I’d like to be an extrovert—in contrast to what I am now, which I do also value—but that I’d like to be “good with people,” and assertive.

Another pattern I could do without might be anticipating conflict. Why go about, day after day, with the fear that someone or something will attempt to do me harm, physical or emotional or both; will be merciless and scornful of the strong person that I have become; will have no reverence for the words that “hurt my feelings” but would say such things intentionally before aiming blows at my body with greater, more visceral zeal? And I will be forced to defend myself, which I believe I could do, but I know I might fail. This puts me in a defensive posture for so many hours of the day and makes me socially anxious, and I feel that the moment I relax, something bad will happen to endanger me or someone I love.

Obviously there are certain ways that I am “my own worst enemy.” I’d like to have these patterns removed and replaced with their opposites. That’d be nice.

Not long ago I took part in an improv class at my local adult school. There was one game we played in which the instructor, Lulu French, had everyone pretend to be an animal that he or she identifies with. I chose the Wolf, specifically the Lone Wolf, because I identify with him: wandering on a quest unknown to others, with nothing to prove to anyone, teeth and fangs ready to defend or attack and unafraid to do both, keen senses of smell and vision providing acute situational awareness, and not to be fucked with or intimidated. Basically:

After we improv students had pretended to be wolves or elephants or tigers or dogs, Lulu said, “Okay, now I want you all to become the OPPOSITE of that animal.” And what did I become? A sheep, shy and frightened, following others with no route of my own, no self-sufficiency or sense of pride, with no gripes about occupying the lowest state possible because no alternative had ever presented itself to me, just trying to survive, nothing more.

I realized something off-putting later. I identified with the sheep more than with the wolf. While I admire the wolf, the sheep felt closer to who I am. It revealed to me that ideals and self-image are one thing, but the reality can so often be very much removed from ideals and images.

How does this relate to the Klein quote above? What if I could accomplish complete correspondence between my self-image, or what I would like to be, with what I am? What if I could have all character flaws and self-reproaches purged from my being, leaving behind someone comparatively superhuman?

Perfect discipline, perfect initiative, perfect follow-through, perfect vision, perfect confidence, perfect certainty. (Of course, by “perfect,” I don’t mean literally beyond any point of improvement. I only mean perfect by comparison, if that makes any sense.) So what is 0% accomplished today is 100% more accomplished tomorrow, what is longed for and wanted and needed is as good as in my hands, simply because I have decided that I want it. Godlike power, insofar as humans are concerned.

But what does THIS particular longing lead to? Only another limiting realization, based in part on the revelations in Klein’s book: that those who would possess the ability to make these changes through scientific means are bound by nefarious motivations. Anyone who could wield such power, as the MKUltra doctors did, to minutely manifest a new personality from an old one cannot be seen as capable of being benevolent, because those who would seek such power on a grand scale would do it for ignoble and destructive purposes, as in MKUltra. When granted state power, no enterprise is safe while the patterns of profit and world hegemony remain etched in the minds of government “benefactors.”

This is largely what makes such Frankensteinian experiments unethical, not some abstract idea that “playing God” is, of itself, immoral. What is medicine? What is stem-cell research? What is responsible GMO food production that feeds the starving and food-insecure? These are methods of “playing God” that are ethically sound. But like the large-scale capitalist control of GMOs leading to widespread injustice, any similar scale of control over mental “depatterning” would (and did) lead to the exact same abuses of power.

What would my ideal version of myself be like? An open and unflinching critic of everything, who says how he feels when he feels it and doesn’t care what people think, who puts his ideals into their fullest practice and does what he puts his mind to, who has the sharpest possible memory in terms of reading and remembering because it is unencumbered by anxiety and mundane distractions, is able to handle anything and anyone including the federal government or white supremacists, is both ready to fight and ready to make peace.

The greatest insight revealed to me by Klein’s line is a particularly existential one: as a single human being who wants to change the world for good—beyond lowering the price of a latte—only I can make myself in that self-image, through action, conviction, and willpower. Technological shortcuts will not help me. And I must find a pack of similar wolves to work with, who will reinforce me and whom I can reinforce, for the Lone Wolf can kill one hunter at a time, but a pack of wolves can take over the entire forest.

Forces that would have us be less than the fullest and most fearless version of our subversive selves are mass, and we must quest against them in our own time, with our will our only weapon.

By “to aestheticize,” I mean “to turn into an object of expression,” or “to depict in an artistic way.”

By “text,” I mean any creative output, such as writing, film, photography, painting, design, architecture, or sculpture.

Who am I to say what is oppressive? I am a self-proclaimed theorist of ideology and culture, and I try to understand where oppression comes from in terms of commonplace ideas and the entities that perpetuate those ideas. I refer to these ideas as ideologies. What ideologies are used to justify war, prisons, police states, regressive taxes, laws against poverty and union organizing, and who espouses them? This is what fascinates me: the necessity of these ideologies to maintain the status quo, and who profits from that status quo, first and foremost.

When is it necessary to aestheticize oppression, specifically the oppression of women? Is it when an author wants to depict something that exists “in real life” and not gloss over the existence of such phenomena? Is the purpose of doing so to shock the viewer, to enlighten her, to educate her? Or is it to do the opposite of shock: to cushion, to carry, to create an affinity, a kinship? In short, to provide something that exists in reality, not for the reader to condemn as an oppression, but rather as a reminder of “the way it is,” for her to relate to, whether with the same jarring and helpless resignation she might feel if she were actually being targeted, or with the celebratory embrace of knowing one’s place and accepting it?

Of course, it can depend on the identity of the reader. If a person with a higher level of privilege, to whom the depicted oppressions do not apply or apply to a far lesser degree insofar as being the target of them, views the text in which the oppression is depicted, he may feel reinforced. He may feel that his place in society, which is not in the position of “oppressed,” is not only desirable but just.  At worst he will believe the oppressions which exist are necessary for the perpetuation of society as we know it, which is a desirable end because our society is a great and wonderful thing. He wishes to stand in for the author, as the author’s proxy, and enforce what he believes is the author’s will, putting him in a position of authority. And authority makes him feel strong, which makes him feel like a real man.

At best, much of the time, this privileged viewer will seem to acknowledge to himself society’s failings and the existence of the oppression, and he will thank himself for not being a contributor to it. Better to ascribe all the blame to society itself—the institutions, the media, the relations between men and women that have been passed down since time immemorial—than to feel responsible for an institutional ill, over which the mere individual has no control. At this point, he has bought into it, not even become inured to it but has come to “believe” in oppression, and when he views it in an aesthetic context, he will relate to it just as much as the individual described in the above paragraph, who essentially cannot envision a society without the oppressions, just as this “well-intentioned” fellow can’t imagine himself doing anything to change or remove them, for to do so would make him less comfortable. He remains comfortably silent and willing.

If the oppressed person views the text that depicts oppression, she may also relate, but in a different way. Rather than identifying with being in a position of power, she identifies with the opposite. She may feel understood by the author, insofar as she understands herself as a target of whatever inequity–violence, rape, or unfairness–constitutes the oppression. However, she may not categorize it as an oppression, because in identifying with a depiction of it in a text, she may feel empowered to embrace her role, her place, as a symbol and seemingly a positive one of her identity, for the alternative is to bemoan the preordained, the “given,” “the way it is,” and to do so would be negative and cloying. As Ralph Cintron describes in “Angel Town” in the context of inner city Latino youth, in an environment where respect doesn’t exist, one must create respect. Perhaps her acceptance, her seizure and attempts at ownership of her own oppression are necessary, not a necessary evil or a necessary good. A necessary act, simply for survival. And were these depictions to suddenly disappear, a certain comfort level of her own might vanish with them.

Is relateability, perhaps, the main reason for aestheticizing oppression, and in so doing, popularizing it? Whether to bolster its benefactors, or subjugate its sufferers? Where would popular culture be if it wasn’t for popular biases? Where would society be if it was based on contradiction and conflict and a constant search for more and better knowledge, rather than on a tight-knit, clear, and set understanding of who is supposed to do what and to whom and when? If men didn’t “know” that women are sexual objects that exist to please us, how would we know to pursue them? If women didn’t know that men are the powerful “doers” of society, how would they know to stand around and wait for us to “rescue” them from the dull, stigma-ridden state of being manless and impoverished?

The manufacturers of mass media want us to believe that we wouldn’t know what to do with ourselves without the influence of the culture industry. People would stop working, men would stop fucking, women would stop producing babies, children would stop paying attention in school, and no one would vote, opting to “do politics” in other manners if at all. The funny thing is, they’re right, to some extent. If people were awakened to the oppressions reproduced endlessly in popular culture, whether by the complicit oppressor (whether he be the silent and willing, or the author’s proxy) or the “empowered” oppressed (without whose oppression she would have no identity), we might notice the injustices inherent to other societal systems—the workplace, the bedroom, the classroom, the government—and act on them. Some of us would work to end them, while others would work to maintain them, to hold onto their positions of privilege, to their dreams of absolute authority, with all the power of the political establishment at their backs.

This, however, is the picture of true progress: a struggle between the profiteers and the exploited. All depictions of oppression should be aimed at challenging the viewer to resist that oppression, and challenge the understandings of where such top-down oppression originates. I say “top-down” because, in the context of the oppression of women but it applies to all structures of oppression, if our society is controlled by men, and so many texts of female oppression and marginalization exist and are circulated, it could be posited that the male authorities which control our society sanction and allow these texts to be circulated, and in fact encourage it, and in fact profit from it, because the centrally-targeted white heterosexual male market is best exploited by being told they have power over and are superior to women, to minorities, to LGBTers, ergo what a wonderful and great society in which we live. And so the oppressions are perpetuated in the same way that the male pursuit of pussy perpetuates the existence of our species: ravenously, and with love only for the status quo which makes us entitled to it.

My Life is a First Draft

“Someday I will do something noble, to give value to my life. My strength in ideas will crystallize to equal great action. I will be free from fear or lack of confidence. I will overcome the adversity of not having anticipated and dreaded it. I will stand for what I am and what I know, which I will know with conviction.”

I wrote these words a few weeks ago, on the train to work. They struck me as significant; what are they saying? That I will only accomplish what is in my heart when I am older, and that my fear will be with me until then. Only then will my actions not be hampered by fear and incredulity. The struggling chaos of my everyday life will be replaced with clarity, calm, and efficiency. Until then, grandiose plans of artistic expression and world-changing action will remain just that: plans, a soul without a body.

Why? There are few things I value more than my freedom of thought. I acceptingly witness the oppressive structures of society, its economically exploitative nature, the various contradictions and conflicts that make it the neurosis-inducing thing that it is. I read and absorb as many of its resistors as possible, and become familiar with the tactics of its preservers. I see each phenomenon around me as being for freedom or against it, and most are against.

And yet I participate in it. I have not found a way to break free, in act or in spirit enough to lead to the act. My dreams of artistic grandeur were based on images in the media and in popular culture: genius, coolness, popularity, acceptance, immortality, “freedom” as the reward for success. I thought I could enter it and maintain my character, perhaps even being a force for positive change within it. But the freedom comes in the form of money and prestige, both of which are dependent upon not changing anything, and neither of which demand high character.

In the same way that I saw myself as unique back then, I see my character as very high now. I would fight for anyone, give to anyone, see anyone else’s point of view, defend the undefended and attack the comfortable….I would kill a king to save a subject, and kill myself if it would empower that subject. I refrain from many things: meat, marijuana, recently pornography. These are vices that deplete my spirit, that hurt my vision and my sense of self.

So I imagine great self-sacrifice, yet engage in very little of it besides sacrificing that which I am against: eating dead animals, brain pollution, and the commodification of sex in our manipulative, Master/Slave-obsessed society. I sacrifice nothing that makes me comfortable, and actively, positively *do* almost nothing that meets my own expectations of my character. I am detached, disrupted, distraught…

Because of this (emphasis added)

Right now, rather than as a novelist, drummer, activist, artist, I work as a personal trainer at a corporate-owned gym in the most affluent county in New Jersey. I train good-looking people in ways to become better-looking. And it allows me to justify being preoccupied with my own appearance. It occurs to me to wonder, in a common way, “what sense does that make?” I’m not the only one apparently who wonders, even among those at my workplace…

Woflson comment

…In addition to the people who know me as a person of principle and great disdain for society, not just colleagues but comrades…

Woflson comment contd

But will I? Will I ever work for the greater good? In politics or art? I see now that there is value within both, although artists and creative people generally have to accept a dehumanizing machine controlling their every word and action. Activists often choose to compromise too, by working with Democrats or ideological adversaries. Unless one can embrace extremism or avant-gardism (which I sometimes think/thought I could), compromise is the nature of everything, I guess. Failure. Downgrading. Losing. Ideals that die like extinct animals. Such is the nature of the dialectic. Why should I be any different?

And what do the opinions of others really matter? They matter when they reflect an opinion of oneself. Where do the dreams go, the purity once thought to exist? There is a question I must ask:

Appearances, Nature

“Is it that certain things just did not work out, or is that they were never worked?”

Ideals are the enemy of action, perhaps. Fear of failure derives from the desire for “success,” when success is such a specific and exclusive thing as to not truly relate to reality. That is the type of “success” the dehumanizing machine wants us to seek. The need to create “revolution, and nothing less” can lead a person to do nothing, thinking herself a failure, when she didn’t really try because she knew she could not succeed fully in her lifetime, and be recognized for it. Perhaps it is bourgeois to seek perfection, based on an indecisiveness that replaces urgency because one is in a position of privilege, not of urgent oppression or even danger.

Yes, personal trainers are exploited, just like anyone else. A session with me will cost you 100 dollars, of which I will receive 30. So what am I doing about it? Organizing, Agitating, Occupying? Not quite. I’m doing a good job, a damn good job, working hard for the client and for the company, because of my “high character.” Am I waiting for the time to become perfect before I act? Am I trying to secure the self-confidence first? What is the answer? I watched a Bergman movie last night, “The Magician,” so it is quite apropos that an answer derives from him:


I know I am probably being too hard on myself; my bipolar nature is having a field day with finding more reasons to be pessimistic, to give up, to do exactly what the machine wants me to do, to admit that I won’t make a positive impact in my lifetime, for the only sufficient positive impact is the kind that results in fame and fortune and immortality. So many fighters who died for freedom will never be honored with a memorial, or even on Facebook by those whose lives they touched. I still believe, even if I can’t do all I want right now in full, that I may still do great things before I die, or at least a piece of them, or at least try them. Great, meaning lasting.

I must simply maintain my self-awareness until then, and hold on, and not view the minimal as trivial, or the imperfect as bad. How will I achieve the maximal if I don’t achieve the minimal first? How will I get perfection done if imperfection is never addressed? How will I love what I do, and the people for whom I do it, if I never love myself?

I just remember, and still know, the feeling of thinking, “If I could just make a film, my genius would finally get out,” as though my distinct vision is so bold and vivid and demanding that it requires film—“the liveliest art”—to be fully realized. My first screenplay, “Paranoia,” was like that; brash and distinct, violently individualistic in its intentions, it was written in such a way that the camera would intentionally be visible in every shot, shockingly, invasively, capturing the horror of the life in which we live. Although I did sign up a director and a cinematographer, “Paranoia” was never shot, mainly because shooting movies is difficult.

But getting back to these days: recently I’ve been hooked on this Bjork song “Bachelorette” from the album Homogenic. It is a brilliant, immersive “emotional landscape,” to use Bjork’s words from another song, caked in briny, swirling orchestration like a magnificent whirlpool, dragging its victims down towards a dark ocean floor. Yet, it is a “song” like any other, short and structured and one of many. Only “eccentricity” can capture the ideas of some well-known visionaries, true, but not the outright mania required to avoid “songs” altogether and seek some completely new structure, some new system. It would seem manic indeed—quite irrational—to do so, because no one [but the avant-garde] would listen, understand, and buy. Although merely “eschewing the conventional” isn’t adequate for an unconventional and “unique” soul like Bjork, a complete and vast break with the extant systems and methods of expression would be too far.

Why must such “genius” cleave to “music” or “film” at all? True expression along these lines of originality—a “visionary” line—should reject all prevalent forms of expression and stop trying to “innovate” in such realms as painting and film where “everything has been done.” Even if the “new” field is somewhat derivative—like writing a novel on a stretched canvas and calling it a work of visual art—it is logical to assume that true originality, and therefore greater expressive fulfillment, would be more possible within such invented fields rather than the ones we see everywhere and from which most modern advertising techniques derive (see French New Wave). But most artists possess a desire to connect, to exercise their social instinct, to be seen and “recognized” in the Hegelian sense, i.e. that unless and until you recognize me and what I am doing, I have no personhood. And without that recognition, there would be a loss of feeling, for it is believed by these artists that art is based on feelings, and feelings exist for other people and cannot be only beheld by the emoter. To attempt to do so would create mental instability, whether from lack of recognition or just from being “bottled up,” and remaining unexpressed (same thing?).

So it is our society of affirmation and social validation (i.e. self-affirmation is impossible; teachers, bosses, friends and families exist to affirm our existence and performance: “Remember, George, no man is a failure who has friends” says Capra, admittedly) that creates this aspect of genius. Or that emphasizes it. It is believed that genius is original; but Edison- or Jobs-style genius is originality based on human need, which is not original; it is derived.

Is Bjork a genius? Or rather, sticking with our subject, am/was I?

There was a time when it seemed liked if I could simply harness the “total” or “complete” expression of my artistic vision, then “success” would be essentially guaranteed based on that vision’s ability to “change the world.” “Changing the world” is what people get recognized for, a lot. My mistake, perhaps, has been reliance on conventional forms of expression, and on a conventional idea of success. The obvious solution would have been to incorporate some aspects of human need fulfillment into the conventional art forms that I clung to. My third and yet unfinished novel, “Mere Love,” was going to be that. Instead of being exploratory, it would be linear. Instead of depicting deeply flawed characters who never learned and never progressed, its character would learn and change and mature. Instead of having an indeterminate number of “acts,” it would have three acts. I learned about all of these conventions from books and classes that teach people “how to write” and how to “succeed” at it. You have to give the people what they need in order for them to purchase something.

Instead of a having a spiritual or philosophical crisis, the main character would have material one, an “event,” that he has to deal with. That event was the death of his father, which I based on the long, slow death of my own, and is the reason I never finished “Mere Love.” Maybe I couldn’t handle “reality” enough to write about it; readers want true-to-life struggles, something they can relate to. Who can’t empathize with the concept of the loss of a parent? It’s practically universal. And universality is needed. But I couldn’t “hack” it, so I did not succeed. I couldn’t give the people what they need.

All art that is allowed to be commercially successful does so because it fulfills “established” human needs; it is unoriginal in form and essential content and caters to the same themes (love, death, war, self-sacrifice, family values, other ideologies), and forges a “human condition,” which is merely the “universally” dominant (i.e. repeating) themes in popular art that appear again and again because they are perceived to fulfill some human need, some basic human emotion, and in effect, to “recognize” it and with it the consumer. This is the comfort of popular art forms and their dominant ideological content: to validate and legitimize the needs of the consumer, and to tell that consumer, “it’s okay you feel that way,” whether about the ache of a broken heart, the importance of war, the desire to be and look “cool” like in hip action comedy films, or the desire to kill someone who gets in your way as you exercise your “individuality.”

{Aside: I am not completely contemptuous of the concept of “the human condition,” because I realize that there are experiences we all share to some extent. It would be inhumane to deny that all people are susceptible to suffering, loss, misery, et cetera, or that these experiences don’t “unite” us in some form. The distinction I am trying to make is similar to that which exists between the two types of nationalism: one type is the “nationalism” in the sense of Che Guevara’s call, “Patria ou Muerte,” where one believes that the attributes of one’s country are essential to it, outside of the authority of any oppressive state apparatus or another, and in fact those apparatuses are to be overthrown in order to restore those essential attributes that they have eroded. Whereas the “human condition” I describe above is akin to the other form of nationalism, the proto-fascist type, where a preconceived notion of a nation is perpetuated to justify certain oppressive conditions such as war abroad, racist policy at home, and the general destruction of civil liberties in the name of “national security.” The good forms of both “the human condition” and “nationalism” derive from the individual and shared experiences of human beings and in so doing preserve both individuality and community consciousness; the bad forms of “the human condition” and “nationalism” are manufactured and sold by authority figures (the media, and the state, respectively), and attempt to repress these tendencies.}

“True artists” who hope to change the artistic landscape are lost within this cultural dynamic, where art must fulfill some perceived human need—possess some use-value—just like any other commodity. And these artists are tricked into using conventional means of expression—writing, painting, drawing, filmmaking, photography, sculpture, music, dance, et cetera—to try to “change the world,” when in reality the last thing people want—and will pay money for—is to have their world changed. On the whole, they want their world reinforced, recognized, “related to.” And these “true artists” grow frustrated with themselves and believe themselves a failure, as I did and do.

The alienation of the true artists who seek to change the world with art results in the state of art under capitalism whereby, to paraphrase Adorno, the media, the press, and the other instruments and venues of communication—by which the arts are proliferated and made “successful”—are indeed just another business, which is used as justification for the “commercial” rubbish they deliberately produce. Anyone aiming to disassemble, deplete, or destroy the current social order—i.e. to “change the world”—has no hope of doing so in the popular arts if fame (i.e. mass recognition) and a decent paycheck are to be the ends. Foreseeing “failure” as an artist results in art being forsaken as a career and replaced with a dayjob or something peripheral to the arts themselves, e.g. a writer becomes a book editor, a painter becomes a gallery manager, a filmmaker becomes a camera operator, a dancer becomes a dance teacher, and so on. And the arts stay more or less the same, more “true artists” being born every day, who perceive that the world needs to be changed, and who will try to do it with artistic weapons that remain perpetually pointed at themselves, having been engineered that way.

The solution, then, is not for artists to withdraw into the world of feelings, but to learn about and attack those attributes of the world that make it in need of change, and to do so with all means at our disposal: high arts, low arts, new arts, old arts. Movies, TV, radio, visual arts, music, dance, drama, and everything in between. Make art as I described above, completely devoid of any connection to “accepted” media that defies and rejects all demands of fulfilling human need, to the best of your ability. OR, use conventional means, and specifically cultivate humanity’s unmet need to do something, to fight for good. Use that as the cardinal need that your work fulfills. Depict the world alternatively as it is—unjust, war torn, in the midst of inexorable change—and as it should be. Choose a target and blast it out of the water as best you can, in the voice that is the target of YOUR target. Want to end racism, sexism, homophobia, oppression and consumerism? Learn about and try to speak in the voice of the oppressed, and empower others to do so (but don’t culturally appropriate or resort to stereotypes. That’s bad). Don’t do it for money, don’t do it to be loved by everyone (but expect appreciation from the people you give voice to, assuming you do it well); do it because the world needs it. It doesn’t need you; it needs change. That is the role of the arts: not the celebration of the individual genius and the successful commoditization of her art, but of our ability to recognize injustice and attack it, and to validate people’s need to attack it also.

Be Somebody!

Movies, TV shows, and popular music all inspire us to want to “be somebody,” but in order to “be somebody” on that scale—in order to be a fast-talking Austin Powers government spy, Jack Bauer-type cop agent, or Beck/Bjork-style rock star—we have to accept society as it is and become its agent, an agent of society as it is, of the status quo. We must reflect its values, whitewash its failings, and invigorate its masses with more of the same.

To suggest that fighting comedic villains, countering “terrorism,” or acting cool and artsy is not enough for a public cultural figure to do, and rather she should be protesting some unjust aspect of society, is to expose oneself to criticisms like, “not EVERYTHING needs to be about politics!” The implication of this critique is that the figure in question would not herself be famous if she fixated on political issues or opined openly about injustice. Rather, she must remain focused on the key issues that drive sales: love, conquering bad guys, and “carrying on” in the face of how tough life is.

Life is tough, no questions there. But is it enough for artists to tell people to just put their heads down and power through it—look for love, hope for wealth and prosperity, and “fuck b****es”—rather than to try to spread some awareness of how things became “tough”? Once in a blue moon, in an Oscar acceptance speech for example, a famous person of color will speak openly about the struggles that she faced on her way to success. Yet, she works for the American film industry, the greatest propaganda machine in the world, that gave us Mickey Rooney’s character in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” countless African-American and Native American stereotypes, “sissy” targets of homophobic ridicule, evil Arabs in “Aladdin,” “Rules of Engagement,” and “True Lies,” racist whitewashing in “The Help,” religious fundamentalism in “Passion of the Christ,” consent-manufacturing for war “Casablanca” and “Hunt for Red October,” violence against women in countless action movies, and innumerable other messages and agendas that pertain to the reason an African-American winning an Oscar in America is such a triumph and such an innovation.

Is it, then, the purpose of “being somebody,” once one reaches a place of cultural influence, to *then* point out the inequities of that culture in such a way as to affect them? So let me get this straight: I’m supposed to use any and all connections with agents, friends-of-friends, and behind-the-scenes folks I can conjure in order to break into showbiz, to start in TV commercials or soap operas or jingles or to appear on commercial radio, to create a publicity blitz among press connections big and small, to pay a horde of people—agents, recording engineers, publicists, plastic surgeons, photographers, personal trainers, relaxation experts, clothing retail outlets, et cetera—a lot of money, and attract and maintain lucrative contracts from studios and record companies, ONLY to eventually come out and say that all of those mechanisms of achieving success are corrupt and morally bankrupt? If I’m going to do that and be cast out of the conformist inner circle, then what was all the work for? You can’t essentially model yourself after the oppressors if you hope to overthrow them.

Granted, if all famous people did it, things might change. But the stakes on achieving success on the scale of a Russell Brand (who is not exactly Tom Cruise in terms of household nameyness) are too great to expect people who have ultimately benefited greatly from that system to publicly come out against it. “I worked TOO LONG and TOO HARD to say that what I did either took TOO LONG or was TOO HARD!” If it was easy for the individual to possess a voice with the power of Hollywood, no one would do it. But that would mean something much bigger. In such a society, people would possess the power to be heard and affect culture without the billions of dollars that fund Hollywood and showbiz in general. The means of mass communication would be controlled, not by “the mass media,” but by the people. Everyone could “be somebody,” by virtue of being part of a society that values everybody, not just those who allow the system to suck them dry.

Since the way one lives is defined in large part by one’s governmental system, it follows that the presence of government is in every expression of how one lives. What one can do or is not allowed to do is demonstrated in actions such as walking in public, sleeping soundly at night, ordering something online, going to a restaurant, and giving money to charity. The more one defines one’s way of living by means that conform to the prevalent governmental system, the greater is the government aware of how a person lives. Freedoms under a certain form of government, therefore, serve the purpose of shaping the lifestyles of those who live under that government, and the purpose of those lifestyles is to inform the government which freedoms those who live under it choose to utilize.

The freedoms, and the corresponding expression to which they are put to use, allow the government to know how people are living, and it is the choices of government that inform those lifestyles: whether they are introduced or discontinued, narrowed or expanded. So the more freedoms we are allowed, the fewer forms of authentic revolt (i.e. freedom against authority) exist. Or rather, the way that freedoms are allowed is to limit and calculate the power of the individual or group to self-determine, outside of accepted norms of freedom.

Put yet another way, when freedom is “allowed,” it is inauthenticated.

For example, we are allowed the freedoms to marry, to work, and to be secure from harm. However, if we choose to exercise our freedom to marry outside of government’s definition of marriage, to set our own terms for our work, or to secure ourselves from harm by way of self-defense measures, certain elements of these “unconventional” lifestyle choices inform the government that we are attempting to self-determine the ways in which these freedoms are manifested. By extension, a lack of unconventionality (a subjective term, of course) in our choices informs the government that we accept the definitions of freedom that have been presented to us.

In effect, this acceptance constitutes acceptance of the entire governmental system. By contrast, those who take issue with marriage laws, labor laws, and gun laws are often at variance with one or another fundamental way that that entire government functions, whether they are aware of it or not. In a democracy, they are against the attitudes of those political demographics that contradict their beliefs. Those who make no distinction between bourgeois and proletarian democracy conceptualize democracy’s main failing as that element of it that allows for a plurality of voices. Those who DO make that distinction will blame their grievance on the failings of whatever group controls the democracy: bourgeoisie or proletariat.

In a totalitarian state as opposed to a democratic one, such unconventional folks as described above are against the individuals who shape public policy; therefore they resent the concept of a government based on a tiny group that controls the freedoms of an entire population. Apt propaganda models necessary for the maintenance of that totalitarian state may succeed in redirecting that individual’s resentment toward herself and at her desire for change, sometimes manifested in the promotion of victim-blaming that characterizes highly hierarchical societies, along with a “that’s just the way it is” and a “strength is acceptance” mentality. That is part of this subject, but worthy of entirely separate discussion.

In a hybrid of democratic and totalitarian, unconventional folks are against both the majority and individuals “at the top.” They are in one way or another against the demographics who accept the state as it is, who assent to it, and who continue to democratically return it to power. And, they are against the small group of individuals who control the government, from within and/or from without.

The demographics who assent to it, however, are always of greater number and constitute “the majority,” otherwise, the system of government as it is or the contentious tenets of it would come to an end. Assent and acceptance manifests itself in every prevailing function of that society: cost and price, culture, work schedules, tax rates, legal systems, social services, labor laws, regulations, education systems, public transportation systems, prison systems, defense spending, all forms of legislation, et cetera. That is to say, if a bus runs late, a prison is overfilled, or a war is being fought abroad, it is because the majority of the population has consented to it or allowed it to reach its current state of function or malfunction. And the voluntary use of any function of that society–as part of one’s lifestyle–represents tacit endorsement of that function.

This applies to elements of society at every level of functionality. Societal elements functioning at a high level, such as America’s system of obtaining lines of credit, its friendliness to business big and small, and its preponderance of low-cost luxury goods, possess an equal level of public consent as those societal elements that function at a low level, such as its “broken” healthcare system, debt-ridden public education system, and police-instigated violence. Efforts to legally reform these elements are welcomed as exercises in democracy; however, attempting to correct these issues in unconventional ways–for example, practicing lay medicine, self-educating or providing education for free, or forming a people’s police force “to police the police”–are widely seen as invalid means of correcting the problem. In fact, they are often viewed as self-serving and counterproductive by those who hold the actions of politicians, not the actions of the people (beyond voting), as the deciding force in the formation of society itself.

The freedoms, then, are aimed at those segments of society that fully accept the governmental system. Altering, expanding, or self-determining freedom (including but not limited to a criminal sense) constitutes rejection of the system. That is the purpose of these freedoms and their use: to demonstrate to what extent each individual consents to her governmental system, and to what extent she disagrees with it, based on her use of them and on which freedoms she uses without compromising either the letter or spirit of their legality.

Those with limited access to freedoms, therefore, are immediately assumed to be less consenting to the governmental system because they use fewer of its freedoms. In truth, some element of “against society-ness” is intrinsic to a person’s ability to take advantage of the benefits of that society. Put in plain English, if a person cannot enjoy the freedoms of a society, that person is against it, either consciously or unconsciously. And the society is against that person. To use a controversial example, a transgender woman of color who lacks the social resources and personal security seemingly reserved for a cisgender white male will necessarily be against those aspects of the society (laws, prejudices, cultural artifacts, et cetera) that create the conditions in which she is deprived of those resources and security.

To draw on our totalitarian example above, it falls on the shoulders of the government to create the ideological conditions by which she blames herself rather than her governmental system. By this means, it can maintain both her inability to access freedom (because it is never demanded) and her status as an aberration or “other” within “mainstream” society.

In countries with absent, inefficient, or in-transition governments, the way people live is determined by the prevalent conflicts of the time. Inaccessibility to public services informs the individual’s “decision” to tighten her financial belt, while street violence in the midst of armed conflict informs her “decision” to keep her children home from school. In this way, it is the form of government (a government of austerity, or a lack of government entirely) that defines (read: controls) her lifestyle choices.

Armed conflict is the conflict between two groups or forces of the populace, whether advocating for the liberation of one segment of society or death to another (Left-wing or Right-wing). Both sides believe “their way” (which is really the way of the leaders and firstly of the ideology itself) is better and more just, or will lead to more power, influence, and personal security, or a confluence of these two motivating factors.

To get back to our original idea: to notice what’s not there is to feel aware of the presence of government in a purchase, an object, a decision, a piece of culture, an outlook, an alliance, a prejudice, or a hope/despair–in a freedom–and though that presence can’t be proven or seen to be an objective force, to know that it wouldn’t have been made or exist without the influence and contrivances of government, and that the government knows about it because if couldn’t know about it, it would not allow it.

As a hermeneutic device, this noticing provides us with the ability to identify by counterexample those aspects of our ideas, possessions, and behaviors that are self-manifested and that challenge the intended definitions of freedom, constituting a self-manifested freedom, existing outside the view of the government, until the noun reaches that point when no governmental presence can be noticed by looking at it or experiencing it. And then we will know we have a true freedom transcending all possible rules of allowance by any governmental system or any aspiring one. We must be ready to defend it immediately from the government and its civilian agents, whatever its form or forum, for it is at this point that the communication runs in the opposite direction, and in the direction it must run: instead of the government dictating to us the ways in which we can live our lives to the end, WE will be dictating to THEM the manner in which their rule will come to an end. The only type of freedom that can destroy both the totalitarian oligarchy and the chokehold of manufactured majoritarian consent and create the world we want—where the purpose of government is to protect our ability to self-manifest our freedoms and concomitant lifestyles—is that which is not an allowance on the part of the government, but a demand on the part of the people for freedoms that are their own ends, not means by which to control us, unnoticed.