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This is not meant to glorify mental affliction, but rather to explore what it is, where it comes from, and its function. It is not inherently linked to revolutionary inclination or consciousness; rather, some of it is the result of a society which demands the compromise of one’s conscience in exchange for the ability to “function” normally in that society—and for the greater ability to benefit from that compromise—and some natural psychological response patterns represent the capacity, the inclination, and the desire to resist these demands.

It is easy to see our mental symptoms as signs of weakness, as disgraceful and unseemly symbols of our own softness of character. From one perspective, they do weaken us to the onslaughts of daily life, the type which demands total complicity in an unfolding future to which we would rather not give our consent.

If only there was some pill to take that made us “just do it,” “just say yes,” or just ask “how high” whenever we are told to jump. But there are too many barriers, those which connote a sensitive nature, between our wills and the aims of our demanders.

Too many of us were raised with levels of privilege sufficient to grant access to the question why: why is what is “required,” required? Why are we being forced into this way of life in whose creation and shape we had no influence, but to which we are expected to either conform, or if we would not have it thus, to change entirely on our own when all the wise and wizened voices are entrenched against us, or to leave altogether if we don’t like it (and some of us do, for pity)?

Why does this seem such a simple demand, yet it quakes our bellies to contemplate fulfilling it? Why is it being demanded of me, when it only benefits those whose interests are as invisible as they are, yet their influence is as palpable and seemingly ubiquitous as snow in a blizzard?

Our “infirmities,” shaped by our chemistry, our upbringing, or our observations, are saying no on our behalf. They are telling us not to deal with “reality,” that we are not able to handle, to cope, to function. We are not able to accept and move on, to stay calm, to swallow. Our stomachs are upside-down for a reason.

This land, this language, these laws do not inspire insouciance. Or gross obedience. Our smile is reserved for ourselves when, for a brief moment, we feel at peace or a memory of peace or an idea of peace or of truly “living.” Meanwhile, we are required not only to compromise our hearts and minds, but also take up arms against them, to ravage them, to bury them, as we would the native enemy. We are required to conform, to consent, to forget there ever was a conflict between “what is” and “what should be.” The power of all of the forces beyond our control—the repressive and the ideological—are organized against us and that power is growing every day, commensurate with the growing level of powerlessness, incompetence, impotence, failure, and apparent halfheartedness of any organization of resistance that existed before or since. It seems there used to be outlets for people who dissented; there used to be an active community of antiestablishment freaks, for better or for worse.

Now, almost all such organizations demand first that we compromise, the type of compromise that created the situation in which we find ourselves. The only mechanism that works correctly is our conscience, scooting between the fragments of our thoughts as vague detachment, observant melancholy, itching fear, or the prospect of total paralysis in the face of a world that doesn’t care if you die—that didn’t care if you ever lived—but only that you succeed at the role to which you’ve been assigned: fool, simpleton, idiot, puppet, charlatan, traitor, taker, navel-gazer. And in our hearts we refuse to play these roles, even as we don the costumes and makeup and inquire as to the rate of pay.

It is a sad but liberating truth that part of our strength lies in our fears, angers, depressions, and anxieties, and only when we can listen to ourselves and to each other, no matter how much our hands and voices shake, and direct our feelings and thoughts at the society which produced them—as it produces so many criminals, addicts, indigents, and indolents that it would rather never acknowledge, address, or redeem—can we hope to wrestle the definition of progress away from “well-adjusted” people and derail their legacy: a perpetual shuffle in lockstep of our people, our planet, our potential, towards irrevocable doom, not psychic, not of the self, but of the thing itself. Suicide, seemingly originating from within so that the victim and her lack of strength can be blamed, in the face of mounting fear.

Our hope rests on moving the fight from the homefront to the enemy’s doorstep, from within against ourselves to without against “reality,” which is not a fixed and eternal concept just as we are not. Reality can be made just, just as our feelings of disgust can be justified, just as they can be clarified, directed, distilled down to their essence, and turned into weapons against those whose only weapon is coerced compromise, whose only refrain is “life is unfair, get used to it,” all while they make the rules, or got used to them long ago. They compromised their conscience, and look where it got them: doing the masters’ work for them, criticizing and crushing the hearts and minds of children, and making us brace ourselves to go silently through the meat-grinder, only because they can’t bear to hear us scream.

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(disclaimer: I’m not trying to put ALL Baby Boomers into one category by what I write about here. I’ve spoken to a number of Boomers who don’t espouse the views that I describe below; I’m just trying to respond to the loudest description of my generation that I keep hearing repeated over and over by folks who are a generation older than me, and whose standpoints pervade the media, but whom I try to remember aren’t representative of everyone, just as a few of any large group shouldn’t be construed as representative of the entire population.)

I’m getting really tired of hearing folks talk about how my Millennial generation “doesn’t want to work” and “wants everything given to us for free.” Let’s just say there was any truth to that whatsoever.

WHO THE FUCK RAISED US? YOU DID!

So now that that’s clear, let’s discuss some of our supposed values. Millennials apparently don’t seem to want to follow the whole “go to college, get a job, get married, have kids” routine as much as our parents did. Why do you suppose that is?

95% OF YOU ARE DIVORCED.

and

DOING WHAT SOCIETY TOLD YOU TO DO WORKED OUT GREAT FOR YOU, DIDN’T IT?

I’m going to come back to this whole job-hating standpoint that is attached to us. Old fogies are saying their sons and daughters are too lazy to go out and “find a job” by “knocking down doors.”

These older people tell us that trying to do the things that we’re passionate about is “not good enough” and a “waste of time” and “no one makes real money on the internet.”

First off,

THE WORLD IS DIFFERENT NOW, GRANDPA. GET OVER IT. “APPLY ONLINE” IS NOT A REQUEST.

And secondly:

WHERE ARE THE JOBS? YOU PUT A BUNCH OF SCUMBAG PRIVATIZERS AND NEOLIBERALS (DEMS AND GOP) IN POWER WHO OUTSOURCED ALL THE JOBS, MADE BILLIONAIRES RICHER, AND CRUSHED ALL THE UNIONS.

We want things handed to us on a silver platter, without having to work for them.

YOU’RE THE ONES WHO BROUGHT US UP WITH PSEUDO-AFFLUENT CREDIT-BASED MIDDLE-CLASS VALUES THAT SEEMED TO PROVIDE YOU WITH GERMAN CARS AND MARGARITA-MAKERS EVEN THOUGH YOU WERE STILL CONSTANTLY WORRYING ABOUT MONEY AND WHICH WAS ALL A BANK-DESIGNED FARCE AND ULTIMATELY BIT YOU IN THE ASS.

They want to make us feel bad for having no values, goals, or passions, for “never playing outside anymore,” for being soft and flighty and fickle and over-medicated. Never mind that they’re the ones who medicated us, who bought us a million types of screens (on credit) just to distract us. A bigger point is this:

IF YOUR HIPPIE MOVEMENT HADN’T COMPLETELY FAILED TO ACHIEVE CHANGE AND YOU HADN’T ALL SOLD OUT TO THE SYSTEM, MAYBE WE WOULDN’T BE DISENCHANTED AND NIHILISTIC, OR MAYBE WE (AND OUR SPOUSES) WOULDN’T NEED TO COMPROMISE WHAT WE DO BELIEVE IN AND THROW ANY ACTUAL PASSIONS WE DO HAVE DOWN THE TOILET IN ORDER TO GET SOME FULL-TIME SOUL-SUCKING JOB JUST FOR BASIC NECESSITIES (LIKE YOU DID).

As I just hinted, or rather said outright, they want us to get business degrees and other credentials that completely negate our actual interests so that we can “follow in their footsteps.” Well where do those footsteps lead?

CORPORATE MISERY, DIVORCE, WORRYING ABOUT MONEY, HAVING A BIGASS MORTGAGE, STRESS- AND LIFESTYLE-INDUCED ILLNESS, AND FEWER SAFETY NETS SO THEY’LL BE EVEN MORE DEPENDENT ON US.

They think we’re ignorant.

WHO ALLOWED SCHOOLS TO BE DEFUNDED AND PRIVATIZED?

What kind of a world did they create for us?

POOR, POLLUTED, WAR-TORN, VIOLENT, AND RUN BY IGNORANT RACIST PSYCHOPATHS WHO ARE PART OF *THEIR* GENERATION.

So what the fuck are they blaming us for? Where’s the humility? Where’s the shame? I’d like to hear one, JUST ONE, Baby Boomer say something along the lines of, “Gee, ya’ll got kinda fucked over by us.”

So you’re angry with us? You’re disappointed with us?

BIG FUCKIN’ DEAL. I’M A DAMNED ADULT NOW AND YOUR ANGER DOESN’T MEAN SHIT. I’M ANGRY TOO, LESS ABOUT YOUR STUPID MINDSET AND MORE ABOUT HOW FUCKED UP THIS WORLD IS, AND SOON MY GENERATION WILL CONTROL THE ENTIRE COUNTRY, LIKE IT OR NOT.

If that scares the shit out of you, you might try changing how you interact with us.

And no I’m not “playing the victim.”

I’M TRYING TO HAVE MY STANDPOINT UNDERSTOOD AND ACKNOWLEDGED SO THAT I CAN MOVE PAST MY PERSONAL BULLSHIT AND START CLEANING UP THIS CLUSTERFUCK THAT YOU CREATED AND TAKE NO FUCKING RESPONSIBILITY FOR!!!!!

Is that so much to ask? You better be nicer to us. We’re getting sick of hearing about it.

My Room

I’ve always been a big fan of my bedroom. It’s got everything I need to be productive, to relax, to study, to sleep, to be myself. Everything is up very high to accommodate my height. I have my desk with its computer and printer, and I have my bookshelves with the thousand books that used to be a million, but which I’ve pared down and now comprise only the most meaningful, the most trusty. I have my bureau, which is very tall, with a mirror on top of it. I have my bed where I sleep well.

My floor has its little mat that I put my feet on when I get out of bed in the morning. I bought that mat over ten years ago. I have my small tables and one or two chairs in my room; I do many different things in here. In addition to what I mention above, I can make sound recordings in here. I can make video recordings in here too. I can write up a storm about whatever is on my mind. I could even lie down on the floor and exercise in here, if I wanted to.

There are pictures of my family above my desk. There’s a drawing an artist friend of mine did for my 25th birthday on the wall next to it. I have my Greek flag, my human muscular system chart, my academic and professional diplomas. A little ways over is my record collection and record player. It is fairly extensive, beautiful, and heavy.

My room is my little world in which I am at the center, creating and building everything that seemingly exists. It is organized for me, by me, for the benefit of me. I wish everyone had a room like this one.

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.

http://www.dailytargum.com/article/2015/11/us-students-too-complacent-with

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/

Or

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 Genius.com, “[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.

American Everyman

by Scott Creighton

Phoenix: “the bloodiest and most inhumane covert operation in the CIA’s history.

Today a little truth pops out from the intrepid New York Times. The truth that I am speaking of is the fact that SEAL Team 6 is nothing more than a global death-squad running around ever corner of the world killing people who stand in the way of our “national interests” (i.e. corporate and banking masters)

Modeled on the old Vietnam-era Phoenix Program, the Omega Program combines SEAL Team 6, hired mercenaries, thugs cultivated from the locals and of course… Capitalism’s Invisible Army, or the CIA for short (and what kind of trucks are they driving again? hmmm)

But of course, being the New York Times, they tell this truth in such a way as make us all fawn over the prowess and tenacity of our most elite, bestest death-squad we’ve ever produced.

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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.

A rock band union would rule, but a good start would be the truth:

Orlando Culture Shock

Ryan Pemberton

Last night, Orlando promoter Ryan Pemberton posted a rant about bands paying for play. I say rant. Yet, I found his Facebook post very informative. So informative I think more people need to read it. School these suckas, bro.

Don't Pay for PlayUPDATE: This damned thing done went viral!  Recently, Mr. Pemberton has received many Facebook requests. Ryan and I are in Orlando.  Peter Kissane from Germantown, Wisconsin alerted Ryan to another sneaky game promoters pull with bands. It’s almost the same as pay to play.  Yet, this is an updated version of it.  Let’s go back to school, kiddies!

Don't Pay for Play 2

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[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.