Tag Archive: activism

I don’t believe nature owes me anything, but I believe society does. Nature does not act with purpose; it just is. We perceive purpose in its actions, but it doesn’t. If the world ended tomorrow, nature wouldn’t care. It would just go on in a different form.

Nature is merely the means by which I am conceived and born. But society, in its various manifestations (parents, family, community, country, culture) is the cause, and society acts very much with purpose. No one asks to be born into this sniveling, pathetic excuse for a world filled with war, murder, racism, oppression, lifelong exploitation, childhood trauma, loss, sadness, disillusionment, confusion, and ultimately inevitable terrifying death. Rather, society asks that we be born, whether “society” means our parents who want to populate their lives with meaning, or whether it refers to culture, which tells our parents where meaning originates, or to our political system, which wants to prolong its “life” with a steady source of consumers and workers who all buy into that meaning. Society creates each individual person for these purposes which are alien to him or her; meanwhile, it creates or is complicit in all of its injustices and horrors.

In this way, while society brings us into existence, it presents us with very little besides the myriad reasons why we should regard that existence as a curse. The absolute and essential need for full-time employment makes alienated puppets of us all, contorting ourselves into our desk chairs or lifting and swinging hammers into concrete, turning our bodies into twisted, broken prisons consisting of one or another pain or preventable disease, and our minds into clenched fists of chronic stress that beat us into submission with refrains of “never enough time/money/status/possessions.”

“That’s life,” they tell us, as they were told.

Society wants to punish you for being born. It is completely ill-equipped to do anything else. Perhaps childhoods can be idyllic for some, but when “real life” takes hold, each person realizes what life has to offer, and uses what means are at his or her disposal to ignore this fact. Among the most common means for achieving this are drugs, alcohol, television, religion, unhealthy food, and expensive consumer goods at best; racism, xenophobia, patriotism, sexism, and imperialism at worst.

In essence, society brings us into this world and then gives us the means to kill ourselves, our hopes and dreams and aspirations for a better world. Rather than hand us a gun and have us blow our lives away, it prefers that we consume as much as possible before doing so, not because it eases any actual pain but because it enriches the people who benefit from society as it is. Mass infirmity, just like mass ignorance, makes those elements of society richer.

If we want to see any changes, however, we must not simply expect society to start giving us what it owes us. We must alter it as a whole. We must change its mechanism and purpose, from one that takes as much as it can from each citizen, to one that gives each citizen as much to live for—as much freedom, as much expression, as much value and worth, as much warmth and love and happiness, as much ethical fulfillment and consistency, as much support and solidarity, as much understanding—as possible.

That must be our goal. When we have accomplished it for everyone, we will have started to pay back the children of the world, and they will thank us, and then we can sleep peacefully, knowing they are safe.

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.

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?

It has happened a few times, due to my desire to maintain a connection to the student activism movement. My statewide student association, New Jersey United Students, (and I still consider it mine, being one of the founding members) holds its monthly meeting at a different college each month, and this month it was held at Montclair State. I graduated in August 2013, and have found, in that almost-year, that all the old times come rushing back whenever I set foot, tire, or thought on that school. The amount of times I drove my Subaru Forester onto campus, music blasting (SRC, Floyd, or more recently, Excision), and paced about trying to decide whether to go to the gym or the radio station, where to find people I know or where to be alone, to do and to think extraordinary, earth-changing things….it feels like it must’ve numbered in the thousands.

Every calm sight, every building with that red Mexican roof and stucco walls, the smells in the hallways and elevators, the familiar faces of workers walking around, still doing their work, it coats my perspective with a dreamy glaze: remembrances of various Students for a Democratic Society meetings (and all the accompanying drama), Student Government meetings (and all the accompanying drama), other student organization meetings like MSA, NAACP, ICC…Board of Trustees meetings, meetings with professors, with friends, seeing fellow DJs at the radio station, doing my radio show, hanging out at Cafe Diem….events like rallies and candlelight vigils, the one or two times SDS held Tent State University, sitting at the literature tables, the times I stared at girls and once or twice got stared back at. Toting books around that had nothing to do with class, writing papers in the library at Umpteen in the morning, with a head so full of caffeine that it almost sprouted another brain. Running into friends walking or running around, working on their own myriad projects, doing the same urgent but cool things I was doing, seeing the same potential around them, the same fear disguised as hope disguised as fear.

If I stay on campus for too long these days, I tend to want to sit and stare out at what used to be my homeland, or my kingdom; at the very least, my world. I can feel it continuing to exist without me, continuing to spark young minds into action or submission, ideas built up and then destroyed, reinforced or countermanded, briefed or lectured. I can see the struggle in their eyes, only it is not yet the struggle for a world free from oppression; rather, it is just to get from one day to the next and to see a future unfolding within that step. It is just to see something of themselves in their actions, enough to be able to do them “for a living,” so they can avoid the terrible prospect of having to leave themselves behind and do something unpleasant for the rest of their lives.

When I stare, and see and feel what I lost through overcoming it, or completing it, there is a part of me that wants to be back immediately. Maybe I could take a graduate class or two, or try to get a job there. Then I would belong again, then I would be back where I belong. And then I think, “No, Mark, you’ve graduated, you’ve moved on, you’re doing other things, bigger things in the real world. There’s nothing wrong with staying in academia indefinitely, but you made a decision not to do that. You decided you wanted to be in ‘the real world.’ And now you have to live with that decision.” It’s sobering, but I am able to see the positive in it. I wanted to be a participant in reality, not an interlocutor to it, and that’s what I’m doing, slowly but surely.

We must “live with” every decision, whether to buy the winning lottery ticket, or to choose not to have children, or to leave college, or to marry the person we love. Some decisions are easy to live with, because they are so incontrovertible to us. They are almost non-decisions. If I buy that ticket and win a million bucks, or marry someone and am eternally happy, I am not likely to have difficulty with whether I made the right choice. But if I choose not to have children, and then find out later that I am no longer capable of having them, well…..That might be a harder decision to live with, to coexist with in a calm way, in a way that doesn’t bother me or keep me up at night, or compel me to try to find other decisions I could make that might help erase the poor outcomes of that one.

I somehow didn’t expect Montclair State to become this to me: a dreamy, out-of-time place so loaded with feelings, thoughts, and memories that it will never again be just a place to me. It is so filled with the remnants—wisps, traces—of what make me who I am today, just like the friends I made there. They met me as I was becoming the person I am, and grew with me. I guess that’s what makes college friends so special. When I talk to them of important things—things that revealed themselves to be important while I was in college—they understand. When I talk to them of history—which sometimes seems to extend only as far back as when I became a student there—they understand because they were there.

When I visit Montclair State nowadays, I’m right back there again, where I understood everything, and it makes my life as it is now harder to understand, makes it seem strange, foreign, frightening. That’s why I don’t think I should visit MSU too often; It makes me sad, like I want to be there all the time. One day, I might act on my impulse to go back there, and then all the versions of clarity, self-sufficiency, “adulthood” I’ve been working on would be replaced. With what? I don’t want to know. It’s too tempting. I must assume the past is over with, and behind me.