I do not want to write this story -- there are a lot of reasons for this. One is that it is a story that is hard to believe without having been there with me to directly experience it. Some people haven’t believed me, or have pushed it aside as a matter of peripheral importance when I have tried to tell them about it. That’s something I’ve resented. But being here on the West Coast has changed my feeling about this in a way -- people have lived through experiences far more extraordinary. Something about that makes this easier for me to write. It’s also hard to write about emotionally, for reasons that will become increasingly apparent - I don’t want to write it; I never want to think about this again. But if I want to get it out of my system and forget about it, I have to leave it here in order to leave it behind me. I don’t want it to define my life, either -- there are memories that I hold dear to me, things that I could write about that would not be so dark, things that make me happy to write about. Those things have more to do with my intellectual pilgrimage through that great big World of Ideas. However, I did make the choice to do this on my own -- it is irrevocably a part of me, and I can’t escape myself. The optimist says that life is about the moments that take our breath away -- I didn’t know that the sentiment would refer to a feeling of strangulation: death by overwhelming guilt. That’s how it is, when it feels like God has abandoned humanity.
I’ve given a lot of thought on how to format this piece, because there’s a lot of dimensions to what this means to me: It has played a part in my radicalization, the development of my view of people and authority; it plays a part in the development of my understanding of ethics, and has given a certain special sensitivity to my understanding of theological subjects. It began as a naive experiment, following a morbid vein in my curiosity. I’ll write it out in parts -- the first sections, immediately following, will be the story of how I got to this cult and my personal recollection of the events. The other parts, what little I can put together, will be the facts of what I know about this cult from my research -- always with the library books. Though it would be fitting to have a discussion about faith, of the essence of theological and spiritual matters that remain important to me to this day -- in spite of all the things that have happened -- that is a topic for a different day. Maybe that’s entirely another book. Anyway, it’s too much to go into at the present moment. It’s time to tell the story of Sukyo Mahikari. I have no fear about this anymore -- if members of this cult would like to know my name, here it is in the open. I invite whoever it is that will respond with condemnatory denunciations to speak directly to me. We could have a Hell of a cup of coffee together.
Down the Rabbit Hole, Neo
My interest in cults preceded my interest in radical politics or activism of the traditional left. I was living with a librarian and her husband at the time, and she would drive me to the library each morning. I would wander around while she worked, getting a cup of coffee and reading whatever I liked, and, for the sake of objectivity in my truth-seeking, including some things that I didn’t like. One of those books was by the most famous and controversial of the so-called “New Atheist” intellectuals, Christopher Hitchens. The book was God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (oh my -- now, now, tell me how you really feel, Hitch). I supplemented this reading with reading a few essays of Carl Sagan’s on the scientific method, and Bertrand Russell’s thoughts on rational and skeptical philosophy -- when you are investigating any matter, or considering any philosophy, he says, ask yourself only and solely what are the facts, and what is the truth that the facts bear out? I like that. Seems reasonable enough for someone seeking the truth. The other book was the book that triggered this most intriguing and terrifying series of events. It was also the most interesting book I had ever read at the time, called “Cults in Our Midst,” by a psychologist named Margaret Singer -- fascinating read, spectacular woman, really. My interest in cults had developed out of the perversity of it -- everyone dreams of finding a place to belong, and cult leaders had a type of power to lie. How do people end up doing terrible things, like committing murders, rapes, simply because someone else tells them to? Because it appears to be directed by an authority that has claimed possession of divine knowledge? Because someone is being threatened, or someone’s family has been threatened if an action is not carried out? Because of a promise of some sort -- fame, prestige? The anarchist Alexander Berkman (I would read a year later) made the point in his book on Anarchist Communism, that if someone is held at gunpoint and asked for their money, they are free to make the “choice” to give the money over -- theft, or death and you’re “free to choose.” Maybe that had something to do with it. I didn’t know, I had no idea.
Margaret Singer’s book went into a lot of great detail concerning this. Cults play on the needs of people, simply put. We are all looking for a place to belong, we are all looking for something more in a life that seems to be increasingly empty, and the promise of some fulfillment, enlightenment, something, anything special, is a promise perfumed with some aura of irresistibility: mysticism, sold at a special price, for a limited time only. Cults, said Singer, function through a manipulation of a specially abusive sort -- the illusion of deliberately constructed obscurity -- maybe they speak phrases pulled from some “ancient” or esoteric “holy text,” or languages that are pulled from some forgotten part of history -- secret knowledge that only this group knows, and you can be in on the secret if you do what you’re told. Apparently harmless and intellectually attractive to a spiritually curious person who is unsuspecting. Cults promise a string of things, and play off of something essential in human nature -- a Utopian promise, as was the case with Jim Jones, or escape from the inevitability of death, as was the case with the cult I knew - called Sukyo Mahikari.
The Intellectual in Exile takes a Field Trip
Reading means nothing if you don’t apply it. The only way I would truly understand the nature of a cult would be to see one for myself. Seems easy enough. As fate would have it, someone I suspected was a member of a cult invited me within a month of reading Singer’s book. How fortunate(?). I had dropped out of community college by then, but still regularly attended the cafe debates because I was learning to hone the art of argumentation there -- daily an intellectual free-for-all. A cult functions through a system of reward-and-punishment, and some cults work by rewarding those who are successful in their promise to recruit new members. He had told me about the group and its special Sunday Meeting -- lining up with the blossoming of the Cherry Trees in the District of Columbia. A beautiful event, the Cherry Trees. What a strange way to spend a lazy afternoon, fighting a cult. He told me it was a group called Sukyo Mahikari, and that they were doing some sort’ve meditation seminar, that I seemed like a spiritual person who would take interest in this sort of thing, and that if I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t have to return. Something about it immediately seemed suspect to my newly crafted Skeptical philosophy, and Margaret Singer had talked about “Neo-Eastern” cults like the Hari Krishnas, and “live-in,”cults, that had promised that people could leave at any time, but are manipulated into staying, for fearful reasons of punishment in the afterlife (a violent modification of the Puritan’s theology). I was bouncing between my librarian friend’s house and another friend, and this person promised me a night’ stay at his house, before we had head up to the meeting in the capital city of the freest country in the world. A night’s sleep, and a learning experience. Sounds fun enough, and I am a traveler and truthseeker, after all. One friend, I saw this coming, tried to talk me out of it, gently making remarks about the ominous implications of following my “morbid curiosity with this crazy religious group.” I didn’t listen, because I have (or did at the time) a compulsion to dive into things head first: Geronimo! This is the cry of someone who is reckless and young and stupid. At least I can admit it now. I wish I didn’t have to learn the lesson the hard way.
A Hard Lesson in Skeptical Philosophy
I stayed at his house for the night -- it was a very poor house, with a lot of holes in the floor. The smell of sawdust and alcohol is perfect for inducing vomit. His mother was also a part of the cult. Cults prey on abused people, says Singer, and his mother was beaten by her husband. She would speak so highly of me, upon meeting me, telling me she got visions of angels when she shook my hand. After I revealed myself to be someone trying to stop this cult, I would get calls from her in the morning every day for the following three weeks, harshly-toned threats, telling me to watch my back. I didn’t call the police, because the threats were irrational and harmless -- they didn’t know where I was. One morning after receiving a call, I walked into my friend’s bedroom to ask her if we were safe -- we were barricaded in her big and empty fortress-of-a-house. Only you, Stephen Wallace, would be doing something like this.
I didn’t sleep that night. I knew what I was getting myself into. I didn’t read. I didn’t sleep and I didn’t do anything but sit up and think that night. Eleven in the morning the following day, that’s when this mission begins. I am a man on a mission -- my name is Victor Sung, a fake name -- lying for protection, intellectual self-defense (Actually, it’s Stephen Wallace, Stephen Da Sung Wallace, W-A-L-L-A-C-E. Hello everyone, I am The End, the bain of all deceptive cults and evil, villainous institutions like this one -- oh, and, Godspeed, you devilish ponzi schemers, run for your lives!). I had crafted a whole story, something appropriate to fit the situation. Actually, when I was asked what I was doing there, I didn’t lie. I said I was a boy who had been abused by his parents, who had been homeless, who had been doing a lot of reading and was interested in what they had going on in this organization, which seemed to be a peculiar group, interesting, that I had never seen anything like this before, and that I needed to learn the truth and see it for myself.
And I did learn the truth. Time to apply the rigor of the scientific method to whatever they had to say. It was a lot of sitting and standing, which was alright, that’s normal, except they spoke in monotonous unity, in something that was explained me “ancient religious Japanese language, like Hebrew, except Japanese.” The lesson was what was explained to me by the recruiter -- we were in a period of baptism by water, when Jesus had come down before, and God’s Mercy had saved us from the malice of eternal torment. But, now, we were in a period of Baptism by Fire, and there were punishments for all of us damned souls -- the solution is sublimely simple -- the members of Sukyo Mahikari are saved -- a new Noah’s Ark was being built in Tokyo Japan, and we would all be safe, for joining. There was a ten minute period of meditation after an exhausting four hour session of continuous sitting-standing-monotony-and-mumbling. Something my newly forged skeptical mind found repulsive. Something my fatigued body also reviled -- I hadn’t slept in thirty hours by the end of the endless pseudo-sermon. I had gotten up once to go to the bathroom, only a few feet away, in the back of the room. I was stopped by smiling faces, men who grinned too widely and shook my hand and asked me how I was doing, and hoped I was having a good time, hoped I was having a great time, hoped I was doing well, hoped I was doing well, hoped I was doing well. Three men stood outside the bathroom, and hoped I was feeling okay. Phones and especially picture phones were not allowed in the room. I had gone to the bathroom, simply to breathe. I was afraid -- there was no going back now, stupid.
Lunch followed the meditation. Ten minutes of sleep was enough for how I felt. Something I was going to do here could save a life, only one life saved and I would have found a meaningful thing done in my recklessness. I would be a moral, good person for this, and that mattered deeply to me. Margaret Singer says that some neo-eastern cults served food and manipulated people into thinking that, if the food induced vomit later, the explanation would be given that it was a spiritual purging of bad energy. I could check that one off of the “This is Batshit Crazy, This is a Cult” mental checklist -- I was told that if I had developed diarrhea or if I had felt a little sick after eating the food, it was because it had been blessed by Su God, and as such, it was food that could cure me of all of the bad karma. Yikes. No thank you, I have chinese waiting for me at home.
The Moment of Unraveling
The feminine, in Sukyo Mahikari, is annihilated. And this is why only the young girls wore uniforms. Dark green, with shoulder pads. Pseudo-military style. That was what made me nauseous, not the food. I remember feeling a tearing sadness in the pit of my stomach, noticing that, in the back of the room was a nursery, where during the whole service, toddlers played. Something I felt, for years following this day, guilty that I could do nothing about. The room was small but I was clever, and the preteens and early teens ate in a closet -- perfect, I could take off my mask there, and let them know. The problem was that it was only reserved for members -- but again, I was clever, so I adopted a blank stare and tilted my head towards the ceiling -- nothing to see here, airhead walking.
I closed the door behind me. Now was my chance: You guys, I want to tell you, this is not what it seems to be. Your freedom from this, the truth about what this cult is, its link to Japanese Fascism, its link to a terrorist attack in Tokyo in the 1990’s, its designated status as a cult by certain skeptical organizations is only an internet search away. I mean this, please believe me, come with me and leave and we can go.
I had not planned for this. A courteous rejection of my beliefs, because, the internet is full of people who are not “in” Sukyo Mahikari, the critics are damned and it would be irrevocably sinful to listen to them. And that it would be foolish of me to do so, as well. They said they knew this because that’s what they had been told. That’s it, they’d been told it, and there was no need for a rational investigation. There was nothing I could do. Margaret Singer wrote about how the layers of reason are slowly and diligently peeled away, stripping the members of the power to question. How did I forget this? The mission was compromised, and I was a failure of an agent, with no base to return to. Now, I was trapped. Luckily for me, no kid brought my name up to anyone important. I was safe. I was a safe failure.
There was a meeting that followed the service. I had to stay, because my recruiter friend was a part of this. The plan was that they were going to need $11,000 for the new building, which would be nicer than this one, and exciting and new. They moved around monthly, and I imagine that this was to keep from being tracked too easily. I can’t prove that, though, just a feeling. I was told with plastic glee that people had donated their entire paychecks to this cult. Yes, throw salt on the wounds of my realization that this was, indeed, a cult.
I was dropped off at my friend the librarian’s house, and invited to come back next Sunday. I told them that I’d think about it. I had not slept in forty-two hours, and I did not say a word to them. I went up to my guest room, and collapsed on the bed. I woke up in tears, which I didn’t know it was possible to do. I don’t remember sending a text to my friend, but I read it after I woke up, at midnight. There was nothing I could do for those kids, whose whole lives were now not theirs, the possibility of their futures had been aborted by the totalitarian arrangement of Sukyo Mahikari, and there was nothing I could do. There was nothing I could do about it, and I couldn’t accept that.
What kind of God would bring forth cultish personalities from the clay?
What kind of God would allow this?
No God that a Skeptic boy could believe in. Not anymore.
Ask Yourself Only and Solely…
To this day, I regard Bertrand Russell to be a secular prophet. Ask yourself only and solely, what are the facts and what is the truth that the facts bear out? When I tried to alert the International Cultic Studies Association, my findings were rejected -- I was not linked with any mainstream media outlet. But I can spell out what I know here -- Sukyo Mahikari is a distant cousin of the rigid religion of Shinto. The parliamentary reports of the French Government have classified Sukyo Mahikari as a cult. The group already has been classified as a cult by the International Cultic Studies Association, and there is a book that critiques the organization heavily, called All The Emperor's Men, which ties the group to Japanese Fascism. The group has been linked to a terrorist attack that killed twelve people in a sarin gas attack. It is strongly anti-semitic. This is the truth that the facts bear out. For now, this is all I can do -- add my experience to the pile of tragic stories having to do with cults, from Charles Manson, to Scientology.
The Seed of an Anarchist Vine
The cult experience of mine is inseparable from what would become my anarchist ethics. All philosophers have philosophers that precede them, that have laid down the tracks to arrive at the destination of a new idea. Preceding Marx was the Left Hegelians, preceding Nietzsche was Schopenhauer. My own philosophical development included this, before I considered myself an anarchist, I considered myself a skeptical nonconformist -- Old Testament, New Testament. It is through this experience that I began to see political ideology as a tool of control analogous to cultic arrangements -- false promises, lies, and a lot of scheming that leaves people hurt, sometimes people get killed in meaningless violence -- the world’s largest Cult is the American Political Machine. It’s taken me a long time to write this story, because it hurts to write it. But, I am done with this, for now.
Through this experience, I became interested in reading the works surrounding larger questions of control and coercion in free societies. It’s through this investigation that I found the work of Noam Chomsky. That is when everything changed. And that is the story that I would love to tell.
A Tale of Love and Anarchy: For My Gypsy Fiancee
By Stephen Wallace
We were engaged for about two weeks, and when I asked her to marry me, I told her that I had loved her since that day I met her, that I would love her for the rest of my life. The question, of course, was if she returned that feeling. She said yes. Her name is Skyler, and she is one of the most beautiful people to have ever lived. I mean that.
We met over the summer of 2014, at a concert. The band was Neutral Milk Hotel. It goes without saying -- this band has obviously descended from the heavens to save us from passionless mediocrity. Magic filled the air of that perfect summer evening. She wrapped her arms around me within five minutes of shaking my hand, and sang her heart out, apologizing in a way that was disarming and genuine: Sorry for being so loud and ridiculous, this is my favorite song, I think it’s the most beautiful song of all time.
Yeah -- Yeah, me too. (Who in the world was this girl? I just had to know.)
She gave me her number and a few weeks later, I made my way to her hometown. We walked along the railroad tracks together for five long, marvelous days. She showed me some more of her favorite musicians -- small independent artists who wrote with grit and insight. Beautiful lyrics. Shakey Graves, Fionn Regan, Elliott Smith. We played a few Neutral Milk Hotel songs together on our guitars. She had a soft, gentle, strong singing voice. We got to know each other, and a string of instances - meaningful coincidences of the most serendipitous character - unfolded through our initial conversations. Soulmates, lost children who had found each other in this, the digital dark age. A moment of silence for our lost generation...
Like me, she had been homeless for a number of years -- not that it was a competition, but I had been outdone by a year. She left home at 16, and started sleeping on friends’ couches, under bridges outside by the tracks, and in the forests around her community. I, in contrast, hadn’t found myself outside much. For me, instead, all the days -- all of them -- were spent in the library, and some fast and clever talking over coffee usually got me a different place to stay at night. It wasn’t always easy for me, though. A dedicated and virtuous friend of mine did what he could for a few months: I was stashed under the staircase of his basement, sleeping on the cement floor (don't gag) next to the cat litter, hiding from his parents; neither of them liked me, or could accept the fact that I was a person who needed to sleep. I needed to sleep every twenty-four hour period, which must have appeared strange to them. In their eyes, I guess I was simply lazy. I joke about it now, I joke that I was some strange synthesis of Anne Frank and Harry Potter. The boy who lived. Indeed.
Skyler Mingo was the only person I had ever met who understood exactly what a struggle of this sort felt like -- constant disapproval, unnecessary and condescending advice, condemnation at every turn, and, whether we could admit it to ourselves or not, fear for our lives. There was a constant struggle to grip to the dignity that had been robbed of us. She understood exactly what I felt and what I saw, and I will always love her for that.
There were beautiful things we shared together and however small those beautiful things were, they were small beautiful things of magnificent importance. At least to someone as small and lonely as me. We stole the same books from the library. I had a copy of William James’ writings; she, a copy of Soren Kierkegaard’s journals. She told me that she considered herself a philosopher. That was certainly true, even though she had dropped out of high school five years before and had no plans to go to college -- not now, not later, not ever.
She was free, and she told me she would always be free -- though she was certainly trapped in her hometown at the time. I was trapped too, and planning to head in a new direction. We stayed a few nights at her ex’s house. They had just broken up after four years. She told me later how badly she had felt abused. Though, I could see that she meant it when she said that no matter what, she would love her ex -- because love was what we had to do. She said that to me, looking me directly in the eyes with an assured intensity. Unconditional and universal love was not some unattainable ideal to her; it was what she knew, what she felt, it was the gift she gave to everyone she met. It was real.
I told her what my favorite piece of writing was, the one that changed my life and changed how I viewed my homelessness. It was a piece of writing that helped me in the same way that she had helped me emancipate myself from the guilt-heavy shackles that I had carried around for the last four years of my life. It was the literary manifesto of the great Chilean author, Roberto Bolaño. He had told all of the writers of the rising generation -- that they were not just to write -- they were to live. It’s a beautiful construction, ending with irresistible and ecstatic, explosive mania:
Subvert daily life -- make new sensations appear
LEAVE IT ALL AGAIN
HIT THE ROAD
And so, I headed to College Park, to live in a student-run co-operative at the University of Maryland. The self-taught dropout druggie, in a house of left-leaning undergrads and graduate students. And Skyler Mingo headed west, to California. A few months later she called me out to be with her -- that’s when I asked her to marry me, and that’s when she told me that there was no other way she’d be getting married in this life, brother.
The only problem with this picture is that she was gay. She was my lesbian gypsy fiancee. I had devised this plan as a vanishing act, because, we had both a history of very abusive relationships, abusive on all sides. I figured that it was a benevolent prank, a magician’s deceitful illusion featuring the magic of love at first sight: I would be a married man, straightened up, and she would be married, meaning -- hands off, and there’s no need to think of me anymore -- I was married and gone, and this way, everyone could go on with their lives and find their peace of mind. Voila! There it is, there you are -- Stephen Wallace, vanished, gone! Stephen Wallace, Gone West.
Gone to be married. Skyler and I had promised each other that we would write our own damn vows. A friend of mine, a journalist for a Maryland newspaper had made a remark about my poetry -- that it was nice writing, but that, since it didn’t rhyme it was more like -- you know, prose with line breaks. So, I wrote my wedding vows as an answer to his challenge -- I wrote my first poem:
Metaphorically, Metaphysically, will you be forever mine?
If it be your will, then indeed I will -- forever -- make thee, thine
From here until that fateful end, you fellow traveler, my best friend I will walk along with you, around the next bend, and the next bend, and the next
On Judgement Day, I will be with you, outside of that Divine Court, consoling and squeezing your hand tight I will see to it, that our love is guided only, only and always, by Our Lord's Big and Bright Divine Light
And when He asks you, did you do Right, did you spread The Message across all seas?
We can say, together, Yes, My Lord, we have showed the world, a Love that we believe.
And then we can -- together -- leave
I thought it was a nice sentiment, that it was a decent little set of words. Maybe one day they’ll be used by someone who gets married (for real). That would be delightful.
Revolutionists in the Golden State: Gypsy Mentor, Pragmatist Philosopher
My fake and gay fiancee and I met up again at a commune just outside of Yucca Valley, in California. Dusty desert honeymoon. I had taken a train over. It was a three day ride with an overnight stop in Chicago. I had nothing but one change of clothes, and four books: One by our Chilean hero, Roberto -- his magnum opus, 2666, Bertrand Russell’s History of Western Philosophy, an anthology of the writings of the Father of Anarchist Communism, Peter Kropotkin, and a funny little pocket commentary by the songwriter and intellectual, Ian Svenonius’ The Psychic Soviet -- a Christmas gift, the best gift I’ve ever gotten. I highly recommend getting a copy. It is equal parts a commentary from the perspective of a dissident, and a hilarious satire -- a maniacal musician’s Jonathan Swift.
I had nothing else -- no sleeping bag, no guitars, no water bottle, no food, no snacks, no haircut. and no money. By the time I had gotten to Yucca Valley, she had fallen in love with a beautiful blonde girl. There was just something about her, Skyler told me -- something ancient, mysterious. She was beautiful and kind, for sure. I suppose the gentle nature of kind people in a world as cruel as ours is a bit of a mystery. So we had been reunited, and the wedding was off! We stayed together, in a yurt built by the owner, named Garth, who had built the entire commune -- over thirty years of hard work, to make a Boulder Garden. The place was deafeningly quiet at times -- only the wind could be heard, I knew the sound of the trees as something inseparable from the movement of the breeze. But out in the desert, there were only the boulder hills, the valleys, and the painted stillness of a cloudless, permanent sky. A (excuse the pun) desert-ed corner of the Garden of Eden
Skyler made the fire, and at night we played dice together. Skyler was with another woman now, and apparently, she had also made an agreement -- some sort of polyamorous arrangement with Lady Luck. I suppose I could justify my own continuous losses by saying that I, like God, do not play with dice. Or, I could say that I have terrible luck. Always missing a golden roll by one -- happens everytime. At least this wasn’t cards -- Go Fish is tremendously boring.
During the day, I did my reading, and we talked about our hardships, our secret plans, and Skyler told me how much she loved her lover. I was so happy for her. She was an anarchist who believed in the importance of self-sufficiency. She was contemptuous of my lack of preparation. I explained that I had my faith in things working out, that I thought she was courageous for coming out here at all, and that I thought it was a brave move for me, too. It took bravery -- not to mention a heaping pound of stupidity, she said. Maybe she was right. I don’t want to think about it!
She helped me learn something about philosophy as I watched her dive into communal responsibilities, untouched by any doubts. She learned to make fire in one night, in one try: A prodigy of self-sufficiency. When I finally decided I needed to learn things like this, she called them necessary skills for survival - it was an obvious, obligatory matter. I called it a Lesson in the American’s Pragmatist philosophy. It concerned finding a way to be free and living autonomously, after all. And it was a the reality of this life -- enough of illusions, I was away from all familiar things, so all wandering in the metaphysical world, all epistemological entertainment needed to cease, momentarily, for the sake of learning what was practical. I, too, learned to make a fire, and how to chop wood, and how to cook on a fire. The best thing I’ve ever made is duck with some seasoned vegetables prepared in a dutch oven. Certainly putting into practice the pragmatist’s system of thought: I could learn how to love others more abundantly and more properly, if I could learn to take care of myself. And, knowing how to make a fire, of course, is romantic in the most classical sense.
Ghost Stories Around the Fire: The Specter of Anarchy
Skyler was more like Huck Finn than Karl Marx. We were on different journeys, though those journeys were of the same intense and personal importance. Where I was able to contribute to her journey was in teaching what I knew from what I had read, and what I had seen. My feeling was that we were both revolutionaries, of different genres. She was a rugged bohemian, and I was the intellectual in exile. We were fellow travelers. I had explained to her my own thoughts about the meaning of revolution. To me, it was a series of realizations about the way people treat one another, that the State was not society and because we think that this network of bureaucracies and institutions as inseparable from our conception of society, we are blind, ourselves, to our power, that we have contradictory tendencies -- to want to control others, and to want to be free to choose (not just what we buy, but what kind of world we build) -- that anarchy was about the emancipation of one’s own soul from the chains -- the artificial obligations of a system of law derived from authoritarian foundation-- that the freeing of the self was only the beginning of a process of freeing others: namely, your friends. And that if you could free your mind, yourself, you could your friends, and so they could free their friends. To me, the revolution meant a realization of the full range of ways to live a life, for yourself and for your friends, and that none of it had anything to do with killing one another over the need to eat, or some childish dream to rule the world.
Leo Tolstoy said that there was only one permanent revolution, and that that was a revolution of morals: the regeneration of the inner man. To me, the need for moral advances surpasses the desire for technologically-inspired utopias. It is more important to learn to be good, than to invent some device that would assure biological immortality. I believe that will always be true.
Fellow Travelers Part Ways: Hit the Road, Jack
We have gone our separate ways. It was not meant to be, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Skyler, the gypsy saintess that she is, will pursue her freedom fiercely, and I believe, forever. She’s fled for India at this point in time, to get married to her true love. I told her and Serena, that they had my blessing, forever, for real, and for all eternity. And off she has gone. Before we parted ways, as she hopped in the truck of her bride-to-be, she looked back at me, and called out, "Get ready to leave it all again, brother!"
"And again, and again, my friend."
I have a theory that I like to entertain myself with, that there is a secret contest that takes place within each generation -- a competition between young heroes to become the Messiah of their contemporaries -- everyone wants to save the world, but who will it be? I, myself have opted out of this contest -- I would prefer to write about the potential candidates, who are, or have been my friends. Skyler is a hero, with a hero’s story. It is not mine to tell in full, though. One day, I think we will all know it.
It is currently ten o’clock at night as I write this from inside of a tent in Joshua Tree National Park. I can hear the coyotes’ chorus piece: Howls of Hunger. A few days ago, the journey of what I believe to be my first true love has come to an end. Maybe I will find love elsewhere, one day. In the meantime, I hope to help others emancipate themselves in the way that Skyler has helped me. Peter Kropotkin described the goal of the anarchist revolutionary as “...TO BUILD UP THE FUTURE, AS WELL AS TO DESTROY THE PAST.”
Leave it all again, Peter.
Skyler taught me one important thing about the revolutionary cause -- regrets of the past are chains. Fears of the future are chains. Though I may not be good at dice, my luck seems to be beginning to change -- it is a blessing to be taught that love is a liberating force.
By Stephen Wallace
I like to joke with my friends, that, at 22 years-old, I retired. After all, I worked very hard during my years of living in humiliating and laughably painful American poverty. As an Organizer, I stayed up late past hours thinking endlessly about possible ways to raise the consciousness of the community. Every night, including weekends and holidays, by the way! I don’t mean this to be a touting of my virtues. I mean it as an unfortunate fact of my life. I thought about it all the damn time. To the point of tormented hysteria, in fact. Probably to the annoyance of my friends. It was obsessive. A thing fueled by an excessive amount of anger at what we had done to ourselves as a species.
A system that produced so much suffering. The data reveals, clearly, this is the species that is its own predator and prey. The species that dominates the planet is suicidal! This was the known and beautiful irony of all of The State’s programs. Lies from the government (and moneyed friends) that we ignore, or choose to go along with. In doing so, we come closer to our collective demise. Something we could have stopped if everyone just chose to tell the truth, in the first place.
But the pursuit of truth begins with self-knowledge. That’s what Aristotle says, anyway. Homelessness, that’s what I knew. I knew my way of dealing with it and that was reading to know things. Knowing that a minimum wage job wouldn’t be enough to pay rent anywhere decent was part of it, And knowing that if I was going to get out of this cycle, I would just have to learn to take things one day at a time. That’s what I knew. And that gave me a lot of time to think about different ways to phrase all of this. A lot of time building roads that all lead to the revelation of The United States and its Big Lie. Every choice has its gains and losses. And since time and money are the two forces with which we measure the value in our lives, I chose to give myself as much time as possible, to do what I wanted to do that didn’t cost anything. Days spent thinking, reading and getting to know other people that might change the way I saw the world, even if it seemed unlikely that we would ever become regulars in each other’s lives. Days felt longer than they would have, but weren’t stretched out to unbearable lengths. It began to feel natural to know a life lived moment by moment. It could be spontaneous if I wanted it to be. But that time spent “doing nothing” was the time I spent learning how to live with myself, and crafting a sense of purpose that was founded in small deeds. Sentimentality and open sharing of woundedness without testimonial melodrama -- casual solidarity became my social norm, in this way.
But those things felt like forced perspectives, sometimes. Pleasantness cannot make you forget your own evils. And none of it makes it possible to forget the violence dealt to you by others. Generally, I think people have just as much understanding of right as they do wrong. If a few positions are given concentrated power, the consequences of a few mistakes made by a few individuals in those positions will be just as powerful. And that can’t be undone. It’s the same way you can’t unsay or undo an act that hurts someone you love. But the act that a ruler can’t undo is multiplied by many millionsfold.
I imagine that involuntary homelessness and solitary confinement, for all apparent differences, are, in essence, the same. Two empty worlds orbiting the same unhappy neutron star. Both experiences are forms of imposed isolation of a person from all other people. I had experienced an overflow of feelings, of inescapable separation. And I was prematurely exposed. So I aged rapidly, in a manner of speaking. And also stayed the same as the friends who were my age. A child’s temper with an old man’s tired mumbling. A lovely marriage of bad attitudes. That probably ended up damaging every single relationship I had with all of my friend’s parents. There were rumors that spread about me and my personal life between some of them. Housewife gossip fodder.
Clumsy frustration and condemnatory monologues became “just a part of the job.” But I was not a fool. Hot air rises to the surface, but I knew that beneath all of that raging and aging that parents saw, I was not a fool. Judgements of what felt like -- what I knew was their prejudice probably only made them more afraid. I can’t blame them for feeling scared and discomforted. I wanted to force a mirror in front of their faces that hid nothing in the reflection. But that was my own violence. Something I paid for in self-destructive marginalization. And all of that beat the loneliness harder into my very being. I found a better way to be later on. And it changed my career and got me a bed to sleep in every night. After half a decade of wondering what it feels like -- not just to have it, but have the choice for it or not -- I can sleep in a bed.
This career was the fulfillment of an anthropologist’s dream that was never mine. To the student of cultural studies, who slept through his entire undergraduate career, I will never forget you. The Universe sent me as the stand-in for your study abroad program -- I liked the topic:
...To Be Invisible: Culture of the Oppressed in America.
I can write the essay, too. Just pay me in cigarettes so I can stay focused, and let me see what your writing is like. And tell me what kind of grade you are aiming for. I already know the title: From Misery to Misery. And there would be suspense and humor like everything worth reading (But it’s real!). “Escape from the midnight mugging!” and “Almost killed by broken glass and a broken heart.” You’ve got one hell of an original thesis here. They’re going to tell you to publish your findings!
You are so very welcome, and I give you an old man’s fond thanks. Thanks for the chance to see something new every day. It is gratitude that only the keeper of a long and hard life knows. Though, I am sure that you don’t want to hear an old man’s stories, I know that they seem to go on for eons and eternities. What I am trying to say, of course, is that I enjoyed every minute of it, and that every day, no matter what the forecast said, my intuition told me that the day would consist of totally clear blue skies with 100% chance of smiley-face sunshine.sporting shades to keep cool and to keep me company and to keep me pumped up!! Clearly, that is what I meant.
Oh, well. That was life. That was my “professional” life. I spent a lot of my time amusing myself with the thought of ending both lives. But ending only one of those lives seems good enough to me. That’s just a little helping of death. Better not die too much now (to paraphrase a diddle of Leonard Cohen’s).
Though my career didn’t make me wealthy, it was very hard work and should be thought of as nothing less. I did my reading, no doubt: History books that highlighted racism, sexism, capitalism and the State, philosophy, poetry, literature and literary criticism. I snuck into lectures of accomplished activists. I sent e-mails to many of them, most notably Noam Chomsky, but there was always a string of others: The former Yale Professor, anarchist and anthropologist, David Graeber, the retired bishop of Newark, John Shelby Spong, local area professors. Infamy or fame wasn’t the deciding factor. It was more-so that those popular resources were the ones that I came across first. If the author was alive and evidently active, I would attempt to reach out to them. A visit to my girlfriend in Wisconsin three Christmases ago proved to be a part of that journey. She was in college and I was not. A book for her sociology class, titled Unequal Childhoods was the centerpiece of my reading while she went to work for the day. The book was by Annette Lareau, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania. I e-mailed her questions about the work, her influences, Marx and so on. Through her recommendations, I was lead to explore the classic sociologists -- Max Weber, Pierre Bourdieu, C. Wright Mills.
Street Smart, Book Smart…
This is what I did as someone who couldn’t talk to his professors regularly. By that I mean that I was a dropout and that was how I learned. That became part of the job as an organizer -- maintaining correspondence, recommended reading, and bouncing the ideas off of -- shockingly receptive strangers. Some of those strangers became friends. Some of those friends became organizers. That is how I imagine all people get involved. Friends who decide to band together and try to change things.
Not all strangers became friends. To some I’m sure I just looked strange. But all of those strangers taught me something that was an important lesson, a piece of wisdom to carry with me until my next exchange, even if the seminar was quick, short, and the “lecture” consisted of one zap-moment disregard -- No, thank you, I’m not interested in buying anything or joining any religion, F--- off, if you’d be so kind. Lessons learned. Respect people’s spaces, and don’t vilify people you don’t know. Some people are busy working, silly, and it’s not that they hate you. And there’s always more people who will come along, people who are waiting to be shown something new. The smallest of the “most important” lessons for Organizing is the reason that we continue to do anything at all: There are always more people out there that feel invisible and know that they are treated like stray dogs. They have become too used to not being listened to, heard, or recognized in any way, despite all that they have to show and tell.
There’s more. One of the lessons to remember is that, though books are written by authors, books are not living, breathing, or capable of suffering. People around you, alive, imperfect, damaged and fabulous, they are the ones who teach the things that matter, all about pain, existence, and love.
Every stranger and friend became a teacher and co-worker in this busy career. Everyone I talked to deserved careful attention. Including, maybe especially those who would call me their ideological opposite. Exchanges always began with a familiar adversarial and accusatory tone. But it helps to ignore something that sounds like it came from a pundit on television (and having the decency to not point that out). Sometimes, the both of us would stop treating each other with bitterness and childish reproach. We’d pause, rewind, shake our heads, and reintroduce ourselves with added sensitivity. The insights that would open out to me during those conversations would always feel especially rewarding. Earned from hard work. A job well done, for what it was.
Admired from a Distance...
If this retirement was not a joke, I would say that I did not do enough. That is always going to be true. If your work is the realization of a free, just and loving world, then the work will never be enough. The only retirement is death. But in the sense that Organizing begins to feel like little more than monotonous routine, I would say that I have left practice. I only mean this in a certain way. I married myself to the Revolution very young. And, like all who have loved, I have not forgotten my first love, my love of books. While I’m at it, I will never forget all of the friends I made in my time spent in an on-again-off-again relationship with Strangers. The time I spent simply wandering, directionless, carrying some pleasant acceptance of how lost I had become. The latter two things were part of me, whether I liked it or not. And when I began Organizing, they were also a part of that. I would like to think that it has had an impact. Still some sort of unusual shame, remains. Because the Organizers I have known were the Organizers I admired, and wanted to be, and never became.
An Organizer finds a way to spread the message along, to show people that they can lead themselves, to show them that history is still happening right at this very moment. Organizers inspire others by showing them that it it is not useless or meaningless to believe in the imminent awakening and the coming Renaissance of our lives. Organizers are the ones who reveal to all what that feeling is, that uneasiness that people at first might not be able to put into words. That feeling that something isn’t right, but I can’t quite put my finger on what it is. The Organizer, the Activist, is the one who gives voice to the unspeakable.
In an earlier draft to this, I got carried away. That happens. And, in trying to explain it creatively, the message was lost in a cacophony of metaphor. So for the sake of keeping it short and sweet, I’ll tell you what the root of all evil is, in words we can all understand. Contrary to what we are taught by playful cynics, every person is reasonable. The problem is, you can be reasoned into anything, and reasoned out of anything. And we are given a lot of reasons to feel scared of people because they look different or say things that sound different than what we’re used to hearing, or do things that we may not think of doing. We’re given reasons, a lot of reasons, to be scared of people. And we’re given a lot of reasons to love people who have a lot of things. We are taught to love things and be afraid of people, and that has made a huge mess. It has spawned landfills and landfills of problems.
All these problems that no one should attempt to reason their way out of.
It is just plain wrong, and we all know it. And, like a lukewarm romance that’s doomed to die, we don’t talk about what’s wrong with one another. All of us walk on isolated lines, believing a lie that we must do all things alone. And again, the radical shouts out, lie! and again the Organizer shows by example that things don’t have to be this way.There are plenty of reasons to believe that we can do better than this. People may not be wildly imaginative. They may have no idea how we got into this mess in the first place! They may not even read as much as they should, but an even illiterate fellow somewhere in this stone-cold country has better ideas for what the world could be than what it is at present. The world we have right now is a world where one of the ideas that “made it big” was to publish magazines with front covers featuring rich people who own a lot of things. Everyone we know probably has the ability to imagine a world better than that. It would be wrong to doubt that for a minute of your life!
Resume Dramatic Poise: In Praise of The Organizer
No doubt, it’s all wrong! Pot-smokers and the poor in prison, the artists starve but they never had to, the students feel crushed by debt and feel that they’ve learned nothing. For all the time and money they spent, nothing. It’s all wrong. An Organizer pulls those realizations forward in a way that does not crush the soul. Instead illuminating its beauty, raising the spirit of humanity higher than all things that threaten its survival. Organizers guide people to places in their minds where permanent truths remain hidden away. They carry lanterns that hold their souls, their lives and wisdom are guiding lights. Those white flames give life to liberated genius. That is, a new perspective. A different picture of our world. A freedom of the mind and heart. They are re-born, and, as the flag-wavers say, they are born to be free. Free to leave the hollow meaning of conventional truth behind. And this reincarnated soul learns to walk very quickly. The Organizer invites them to run. To sprint into the open streets, toward the pink-orange Good Morning of the better day. But I am not someone who can do that.
Not like the Organizers who took me along for the ride, or the ones who I invited along.
At least, not in the ways of the Conscientious Objector, not the Protestor, not the Demonstrator, the Sit-in, Die-In Dramatists.
Activism and theatre have always been, evidently inter-linked. I never was good at acting, though. I could never really get rid of stage fright, so to speak. Though I know I had meaningful things to say, my voice is not loud and, God knows that I could not dream of delivering a speech in-the-moment and at the same time hope to stir the air in a large crowd. I was content to wander, alone, but not lonely -- to know what what it felt like to breathe in the free air. And to hear the noisy and melodious sounds of their celebratory marching.
Every play has a few important people who work behind the scenes. And they’ve got their names written in the program that is given out before the curtain opens. Without that quiet and diligent work that goes on invisibly, the show can’t go on.
Every person has a part to play. My name is near the back somewhere, in small bold and italic-style print. And each person gets a short biography that tells the viewers, just a little bit of the story of the real people on the stage. Mine would be just a few lines, nothing evidently outstanding to someone just flipping through. There would be something about dropping out and wanting to die painfully slow -- how I felt that that was all I could do, for a long time, and, forgiveness at last. And something about the joke that I am retired. And my most recent role, behind the scenes of this Revolutionary Masterpiece. A writer who could bring this story to the People!
Literary Criticism for Dropouts
The meaning of all of this is to point out, that the Activists and Demonstrators, the Radicals, like every culture, have their mainstream which constructs an accepted understanding of how popular revolution should be brought about. And there are the ones who have contributed in ways that are independent of the most direct methods of involvement. Still, those contributions prove to be invaluable and essential to a movement’s continued life. We turn, for a moment, to the classics. The novelist, Franz Kafka’s critical illustrations of state bureaucracies and other forms of social management have enriched the motivations of anarchists and other dissidents. Kafka’s work highlights the agonizing effects of meaningless societal violence. The patriot says that we are born to be free. But in our time, it is not to be so. Our longing for independence and creative thinking disintegrates on contact with cold reality. Possibilities for humanity are reduced to that of an insect. The superficial measures and arbitrary limits that are central to modern institutional construction are webs of Oppression. Kafka’s involvement in anarchist organizations has been noted. There has been substantial documentation of this fact.. Peter Kropotkin is Anarchism’s answer to Karl Marx. His name appears in the personal writings of the studious Kafka,
He may not have been as directly involved in the Struggle against Capital like the anarchist Kropotkin, but his work has highlighted the effects of the prolonged abuse of human beings by institutionalized behavioral patterns. The pathological tendency for attention to trivial details and meaningless standards of measurement. This relationship has been explored in-depth by the French philosopher, Michael Löwy. It’s a highly accessible read, and the author has written about many of the icons of Radical Politics. Also, the associated theological current, Liberation Theology. I enjoy my time with things like this. But I don’t pretend that everyone will find joy in elaborate commentaries. Especially elaborate commentaries written on books by Authors long dead. Authors that everyone talks about but very few people would torment themselves and force themselves to read. Authors like, Karl Marx. Though, I don’t know what to think. People always surprise you with the strange things they do.
And The Ones You’ve Never Heard Of Before…
The Marxists, like everyone else, have a mainstream -- Leon Trotsky is the obvious example, and out of the American canon, E.P. Thomspon, and Eugene Debs. The Marxists also have their unorthodox variants -- Rosa Luxemburg, the anarchist dissident in the Soviet Union, the astronomer and theorist of Council Marxism, Antonie Pannekoek, or the Anarchist Orator, Voltarine De Clerye. The first two were denounced by Leninists -- an expected reaction of the rigid Red bureaucrats. Pannekoek was mocked by Trotsky who dismissed the Marxian Stargazer with signature intellectual sarcasm as “an infantile leftist.” Luxemburg was murdered in Berlin. Her work is largely forgotten. Contemporary affiliation and appreciation survive in little shards, in remarks made by Noam Chomsky, for example.
De Cleyre, who the immortal and infamous Emma Goldman called “the most brilliant anarchist woman America ever produced,” is also largely forgotten, and misrepresentation of her views in summary articles becomes startlingly obvious when her work is reviewed independently. She was a Poetess. and a fearlessly passionate speaker, infatuated with the nature of Ideas. She was a feminist, a critic of the Church -- two things that, in her time, could have gotten her killed. Examples all worth careful review. Through studying these three phenomenal individuals, a question of survival arose. A question about History’s memory of radicals. Had History pushed these exemplary thinkers off the edge, were they deliberately thrown into that dark valley, the Shadow of Forgotten Wisdom? Maybe it was because they are more difficult to categorize. Either way, I began to feel that History tended to bury things and that it’s forgetfulness effectively marginalized the Radical voices that were revered by friends within the Radical Thought circles of their time. More is forgotten by History than learned from it.
We are not good at keeping track of the wallflowers that line the edge of the room.
Bohemians in the Digital Age
I mentioned that I was homeless for four years, didn’t I? And I suppose in a way, that is my cultural background. One of the definitions I have heard of culture, is that everything that happens in society is culture. So my time spent, learning the nomad-of-one culture has taught me a lot. Each different home had a culture of their own, and each spoke a different language than the last. All of the recently discovered off-shoots of American English -- left wing, right wing, rich, poor, divorcee, addict, hopeful disciple, secular humanist, and the universal language that no one wants to use during daylight hours: Heartbroken and helpless, and sick of living. Though I am fluent in the romantic language of the Anarchistic Madman, it would be senseless to carry that verbal weapon openly, especially when it so late and everyone wants to sleep.
Another lesson learned -- an open door is kind and trusting enough. It needs no annotation or additional comment.
All friends begin as strangers. Some strangers become friends, some friends you only know for a little while. Some friends come back, and some friends stay with you. The friends that stay, stay up late with you.
Here are two friends who stayed up late with me.
The Digital Native Night Owls aren’t frightened by much of anything. Certainly not a poor and clumsy hippie with a book. Those all-night reclusive youths that opened their doors to me, I will be forever grateful for them. They are my best friends. They are also the ones who gave me Night Classes. Two people come to mind when I say this. Both of them I won’t let myself forget. One lady (who wishes to remain unnamed, here) and one gent (who wishes to be named here and I will do so below). Two different houses, part of the same Night Owl Digital Bohemian culture.
The lady nocturne lived in a lie of a house. She told me that a few times. Outwardly it appeared as the model home for the affluent and quiet family. She hated it. It was a lie of a house. For its inner emptiness, its big and blank-walled emptiness. The type of home that a lot of people are told is The American Dream House. The thing they are told that they want. She left high school very early, and by some series of events, she obtained a high school diploma. She would not call herself a teacher, and she would be disgusted at the notion of being thought of as an intellectual. But I have learned more from her than any schoolmaster. Though her house was large and had a nice television, I found that early on, before anything about the house might have informed my understanding of her or her family, that the house was, indeed. a lie. It indicated nothing about her. Her family never asked for money for my nights of sleeping there, and the illusion of affluence hid a life lived in struggle. The first friend I completely trusted moved around a lot during her years in school. She attended more than a dozen different schools between middle and high school for a variety of reasons. None of them had anything to do with military life. And she had lived in small apartments and smaller houses. I don’t want to describe her experience dishonestly, but from her telling me of her “one of everything” sampling of living spaces, that should be enough. Thinking of how much she has seen of American daily life makes me think of how uneducated I was -- not in the Official sense. In the sense that is related to events. My education, though informal, was primarily received through the intellectual community. Academic books, and talking to Professors..
She reminded me, again and again, sometimes daily, of my stupidity. This was not by deliberate cruelty. She had nothing to gain from this, except that she might gain a better friend if being an honest person can help people grow. She always knew how to say what she thought. And when it came to America, she knew how to say what she thought better than any Marxist or Intellectual Leftist I have known. In a way anyone could grasp. This was different than my learning through reading alone of empirical material. She wanted nothing to do with the hollow vernacular of the sociologists. She and I would watch films and stay up very late. It has seemed then, and still does, that her knowledge of literature, poetry, and music came from a bottomless pit. Maybe in that empty house, there was a secret room, where she kept all of the novels and records that should be preserved and locked away, in case of a raid by government tyrants, or SONY Producers looking to seize the musical treasures for their corporate empire. But her imagination is not littered with paranoia. I don’t think she would have given a thought to being frightened by the government.
There were more important things to think about. More music is forgotten than uploaded and digitally archived. She was a preservationist, thinking of music in this way. And she had so much to show me. Always more, new and beautiful and differently beautiful, whatever it was. I knew I was totally ignorant of all of it. It says a lot that the only word I could use to describe my feelings about certain songs and lyrics -- the word was“interesting,”-- that showed me my own lack of culture. That’s a half-brained understanding of art. She, more than any person I can think of, has stood out as honest and uncompromised.
America, she told me, was a long sick, and twisted joke. Her precocious cynicism is complemented by a love of the works that present wisdom with a sense of humor -- insights that are transmitted through wit, mockery, satire. But she is not cruel or insincere. She is finding a way to laugh at some ugly truth about the state of things. And when it has not been laughter, it has been beauty. Real beauty.
She will point out all of the things about art that people miss (maybe I was the only one who never gave it enough time). I thought I knew “enough”about what music and poetry were, what it meant to appreciate art. But that was lazy of me. We do not give ourselves enough time to find music and books that we like, and that has made the world an emptier place. There is so much more, and some important message is being sent (without imposing itself on the reader or listener). Something that those artists were pointing toward. She showed me recently, the poet Gil Scott. His poem.“Whitey On The Moon,” is not-so-shockingly relevant to our 21st century social illness, the reality of racism in the so-called “post-racial” American world. Our friendship is rooted in a trust and confidence that is only because of the “in-touch always” convenience that Digital Natives enjoy.
Ferguson, Modern Savagery: Like, Comment, Share
The night that the ruling of Officer Darren Wilson was announced to the public, we expressed to each other, what felt like sober and lucid sentiments. I was not surprised. Was she? No, not at all. Two children who were not born yesterday. When Mike Brown’s murder became a matter of secondary importance, what took priority in the discussions surrounding the tragedy became the courteous savagery that we have become familiar with. The chastising of the ungrateful dissidents, and barbaric looters by the most prim, proper, privileged parts of the population. Protesters and breaking windows -- they aren’t peaceful, they are nothing but trouble! Why can’t they be grateful for the Police Force, for all they do for us.
It was she who, eras ahead of everyone else, pointed out the total depravity of the ongoing debate. How backwards a culture must be, that the pundits and forums overlap in near-congruent displays of ignorance. The television’s liberal voices were also meaningless. She always loathed the contrived indignation of intellectuals, the secret narcissists who were used to being summoned to the Television Eye to say nice things about justice and principle. And then they vanish.
Until ratings showed that being angry was in-style again. Famous or not famous, people like that want to get applause and impress their friends with how good they are.
People we all know are not excluded from this twisting backwards of our moral spines. The shame belongs to us, acting as if the discussion that followed Mike Brown’s murder was acceptable and that the whole thing could be excused as a complex issue. But it was indeed a sick, and very long, twisted joke. Digital Age Savagery. Social media battalions, line up -- keyboards, locked and loaded.
A jury of the masses to determine -- whether or not -- the death of someone our age is a tragedy. And it was after talking to her, that the detached and unemotional character of the debates -- between intellectual students, and various people of privilege that an ugly and simple truth revealed itself to me. Ignorance is a privilege. The privilege of being a part of the Ruler’s Ideology is not having to know the pain of oppression. Ignorance. I get what they say about it now.
It must be so very blissful.
Rare Sightings of a Saint Among Us: Gentle Genius, Friendly Ghost
The other friend is, similarly, a digital native. Nicholas Keller introduced himself with tender amusement, called himself a socially engaging recluse. A beautiful contradiction. Young and insecure children with good heads on their shoulders always dress up their language. Our culture is perverted by a need to win, and the bookworms have their sport, too. Being the smartest person in the room is more important than making friends, for some reason. All of that competitive nonsense is beneath him, though. That doesn’t worry him. Empathy comes first, is his unspoken rule. But everyone knows that Nicholas Keller could send professors reeling, if he wanted to. If he was someone who was violent, he could make a nice side hobby of breaking the egos of intellectuals. Like a master of martial arts who breaks cinder blocks with apparent ease. But he is a gentle person. If I wrote a fantasy novel, in it, he would be a singing old man, carrying a lantern, captaining a ferry that only appears on clear nights when the moon is full. And that ferry would take the passengers to The World of Ideas. The ferri would return by daybreak, but all passengers returning, would be changed forever. The wisdom of a thousand lives would be theirs for the keeping. This is how I think of him. Luckily for him, I am not interesting in writing fantasy novels!
Radicalized at an early age, he organized walk-outs in his high school to protest the re-invasion of Iraq by George W. Bush. I believe he was fourteen. He marched on to the White House, during a series of history’s largest demonstrations. Our friendship is one of those lucky happenings that emerges out of unlucky circumstances. The older brother of a high school friend, our first conversations were in his car riding to whatever house I was staying at for the night. He is self-taught in literature, theology, philosophy, cognitive science, botany, art, music, mathematics and spanish. And this is no Hobbyist. It has seemed, at times, that he absorbed Ideas similar to the way a plant absorbs sunlight. He is humble. A quiet man with unmatched brilliance. He has demonstrated love and endearing sincerity to me that is dreadfully rare. He mailed books to me, encouraged my exploration in art and intellectual matters more than all of my other friends. During some of the most unhappy times of my life, months spent in a house so poor that the dog’s ribs were always showing and the electricity shut off for a handful of days each month -- that small act was something I held on to.
These two friends of mine have not yet met, and I don’t know if they ever will. I know that they represent to me, two different versions of the same lesson. They have been some of the wisest people of all ages that I have known -- demonstrating not only intelligence but tender love and forgiving nature. They have been exposed to many of the unusually abrasive and harsh conditions of life. They are the ones who have shown something to me, a rare and whole grasp on the meaning of human decency. They are not protesters, demonstrators, or organizers in the sense we might be used to. However, it was this pair of people who helped me understand my own study of Radical Politics -- because of their invisible compassion.
The fellow nocturne Nicholas Keller has told me he would not last in retail. He would probably crack. But to me, they both have done the hardest and most important work. They can answer the question of who they are, and can tell you the story. We are all never done growing, not until death, but they have shown me something astonishing about self-growth and independence. Institutional learning exhausts the youth, suffocating their strength away. Most become too exhausted, or frightened to look inward. The arbitrary measuring of the person’s psychological worth by grades and wages rewards them with nothing but grief. It abuses them and either degrades emotional honesty, or produces detached, and academic arguments. Arguments like that can be, of course not always, the product of compromising the search for what drives our passions, internally. We already have enough problems to learn from, when we have hurt each other. The ones I have spent time with, the ones who have continued to learn so far away from the University life and do not restrain how they illustrate their worldview. They do not rigidly align the whole of their speech with the language of academics or the activists. But by making these choices, they have been revolutionary -- their minds are independent, critical, not inclined to answer to any ideology. Only inclined to honesty and love.
Kafka would not have called himself the philosopher-activist, or an anarchist. But, as he wrote in private, we should not forget Kropotkin! He arguably would have accepted the word existentialist. Regardless of the exact details, it is clear that the novelist’s work has given a rich illustration for the anarchists, the dissidents, the revolutionaries. Those radicals have been able to bring the writing to life. The modern bureaucratic nightmares, the Kafkaesque portraits of a fundamentally backwards world. The artist pours his imagination onto the pages. The activist alludes to those pages in his own exchanges. The line between real and fiction blurs. The line between revolutionary and artist dissolves. The relationship is symbiotic. And that, I believe, is similar to what my friends have been to me. All of my conversations with them never included reference to classic leftist philosophers. But it was the ones who saw artists as prophets and saints, that gave me another key to one of the locks in my radicalization process. One step closer to unlocking myself from the social conditions of the Kafkaesque American Nightmare.
...Only to your Friends...
I have a lot more to write about. My career as a rigidly defined Organizer has given me so much, and I want to write all of it down. Some lonely reader might feel like it was written just for them. Maybe, without me knowing, it will turn out that way. I hope it teaches any stranger who will read it. Maybe we will become friends, and I’ll come out of retirement like all of those bands from the 1970’s. I could take my little joke just a little further, and simply state that I am moving to a new phase in my career. I would like my contribution to the Revolutionary Drama to be in writing, to capture in words, the sentiments that sent me on a long journey through the Activist world. I don’t mind operating behind the scenes of this play. I want to represent these two people. Culture is everything that happens in society. The culture of these two friends of mine is one that displays a characteristic of unintentional radicalism. Something I seek to represent, somehow. They are the Digital Native Bohemians. To write in an honest way about the things I have seen, and to write about what I learned while organizing to fight the system on The Frontlines. This is the way I would like to give back to them -- which is especially important to me, considering how long it was that I felt I had nothing, nothing at all, to give.
(God Bless The Student Protesters)
Stephen Da Sung Wallace
It is a beautiful day in the Land of the Terrapins -- November 24th, 2014. The long arms of winter have receded momentarily, and permitted one day of blue skies, and sunshine. On this day, the splendid activists of the University of Maryland choose to speak. This letter is intended to inform our lovely associates of the present state of affairs, and it is, more importantly, a voice offered from the outside, in support of those courageous youths, the social justice junkies, the ones who did shout for justice, and peace.
Firstly, the matter at hand. Universities have a history of strange bedfellows. The Pentagon’s funding of MIT’s young engineers comes to mind - this, during a time of protest against the Invasion of South Vietnam fifty years ago. The relationship between military programs and development of the appropriate materials for aggression -- biochemical weapons, nuclear technology, weaponry crafted for the destruction of agriculture -- has been thoroughly documented by the policy designers themselves. The whistleblower of the last generation, Daniel Ellsberg revealed this in his leaking of the Pentagon Papers. It has been written about in detail by the learned authors -- Historians Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky, journalists I.F. Stone and Glenn Greenwald. This tradition, to Maryland’s great shame and discredit, has reached Terrapin territory.
The Social Justice Coalition Against UMD Militarization reports a few items on the shopping list of the Administration: 49 M-16 assault rifles, 16 12-gauge shotguns, 1 $65,000 armored truck. All in the name, of course, of protection of the students. Though, each truism that goes without saying -- must be repeated in each public address. That is to say, that the claim of protection, security, comfort and so on, is -- dubious, to put it politely. Appropriate contextualization is required for the sake of the conscious of the general informed public -- we turn, for a moment, to the city of Ferguson, Mississippi.
The claim, of acts of police brutality in that now-famous city are at last under investigation by our hesitant Federal Bureau. This, in the midst of disturbing reports -- discontentedness that ranges from accusations of the regular violence of State institutions, to the declaration of the arrival of the Orwellian nightmare -- the Police State. This sentiment of uneasiness sometimes blossoms, the alarm is sounded by the apostles of freedom -- the familiar cry -- No Justice, No Peace.
The University, like every other institution that burdens our dying planet, has its administration, its bureaucrats, its tyrants, its corrupt political entities. University of Maryland, in this way, follows the standard formulation -- the Humanities field explores relationships between women, men, and the social construction of gender, but, largely, the professors’ lectures will be void of calls for the necessary rebellion, the honed quality of dissent. This is the 21st century, and yet the Authoritarian Idea that has hogged the ideological spotlight for centuries survives -- sometimes appearing in disguise, in the form of a Corporate, Private institution, sometimes overtly, as illustrated by the horrendous acts of the National Security Agency. Our institutions are merely the descendents, the offspring, of the more brutal and shamelessly oppressive configurations -- the model of the King and Queen and Serfs in Feudalism, the Chattel Slavery and plantation owners of our Antebellum past, the indentured servitude that survives in the form of student debt today -- the current modifications of authority-centered social structures results in what honest fellows call wage slavery. That is the task for our fellows in the 21st Century.
It survives, as any rule does, by dividing the population against itself -- in this particular instance, the racial hatred of the State is passed down to the complacent members of suburbia. The shaky foundations of concentrated power hold their false authority steady through a series of myths, as well -- that is, that the population is too stupid for true democracy to function, that the students ought not to be passionate, but disinterested, objective scholars, that the hydra of sexism, racism, classism no longer stalks the halls of the 21st Century Institutions.
But a Police State, we must remember, does as it pleases. It expresses itself when the cry of the people is too noisy, too loud. Its motto is familiar to any person who is not trapped by that signature timidity and youthful naiveté: Do not speak, do not shout, do not dream, do not express, do not deviate from the norm, bow your head in silence, stay quiet, stay safe. The academic variant of this sentiment is familiar to the anxious freethinker that participates in our educational life --the condescension of administration, and incessant assessment of one’s soul in the form of more tests, more grades, more assignments, more essays, more presentations, more textbooks. The new addition to this is, of course, the intimidation by our men in uniform, which no person can resist (of course). Either the spirit is crushed, or one pays the price -- no one wants to be the first one pushed up against the wall. But that is the world we have created.
Allow this dissident to introduce himself. The writer of this letter is an anarchistic, autodidactic advocate of autonomy and freedom. On the peripheral of the acceptable ideas within the radical community, that is, a bohemian variant of political dissidence - an anarchist who believes that honesty is more important than tact, or courtesy, and who would prefer wisdom appear in the form of poetry or music, rather than the polished works of annotated, footnoted, sociological study. In short, a self-taught dropout, who spends most of his days sipping cups of coffee at Plato’s Diner, and a young man who is ashamed of what has happened to our country. I have written for political papers in the activist circles of this lovely state, I have run with the most admired anti-war voice of our century, Cindy Sheehan. It is a pleasure to meet you.
Let me finish by directly addressing those marvelous protesters. Fellows, congratulations, and I am happy to see the revolutionary tradition survives today. It is a great beginning to a long battle -- of ideas, of patriots, of statesmen. I am only disappointed that our voices did not turn more heads, that there were not more of us. But it is a beginning. I am someone who does not enjoy staying in one place for too long, and for this reason I may vanish from College Park soon. But I would like to say this -- my heart is yours in totality. After you are finished raising more hell, after you are finished breaking the chains and have mastered the conjuring of the spirit of solidarity, after you have made this land free, and have flipped all of the tables -- spread the love we so desperately need, and do not hold back.
I hope to see you soon, dear friends.
Stephan DaSung Wallace
by Stephan DaSung Wallace
It is the dream of a pompous and dreadfully short-sighted individual - the desire to become a voice for their generation. This is a letter to those idealistic egoists, who I can only hope will be able to express with total honesty that they have spoken for a boy like me, one day.
It is not the happiest days of our young life that determine our place in history. If you are a millennial, I hope to God that you have retired the delusion that we all ought to die young. I hope even that, by now, the desire to live a meaningful life, perhaps to live to a ripe old age and look back with pride at a life well-lived has become the dream of yours. I hope that the aggressive hubris and desire to be the best at things has subsided, and that, at least by now, serious contemplation of what it means to be a good person in this world has given you a new direction. This is important for the conventional reasons - one does not wish to look back at their life at the end and be crushed by total uncertainty of its worth.
For our generation, the meaning of a life well-lived has an additional criteria - we need a moral courage that we have yet to fully realize. Let’s generate a thought experiment, on the idea that we want to live an amoral life.
Imagine you go to University to become a historian. You do very well in your studies, and have researched the works of Samuel Huntington, Gordon Wood, Francis Fukuyama and the other standard histories of the United States - the great biographies of the Founding Fathers, and some of the works that touch on social movements in the United States. You may read, for example, The Fall of the House of Labor by David Montgomery. You do well in classes. Due to your reading on the side, a notable institution gives you a position which allows you to write freely about your perspective on current events in the political theatre. You begin to notice some things seem very wrong with our system.
You are compelled to act, but given your allegiance to this honorable profession, you are made immobile - condemned to produce reports with the static and unmoved presentation of a “neutral” entity.
The decades go by, and you have lived a good life. You are given a contract by a noteworthy publisher, for a memoir on your incredible career in journalism, or in historical analysis, or intellectual commentary, or for your in-depth work - extrapolations about Keynesian economics in American history. As the decades have gone by, and the reality of painful social conditions has chiseled away at your ideals - the decay of the institutions has given birth to a deep worry about the future of the rising generation. You decide to dedicate your memoir to the children of 2100:
Please do not make the mistakes my generation made.
In the political world, and in the world of conventional truth, we are told that compromise will lead to the best solution. But given the current social reality, one can’t help but think that that is a superficial truth - and today, such wisdom amounts to meeting in the middle of a broken system. It seems that the end result of surrendering so much of our moral core has only deepened the reality of inadequacies of bureaucracy, and tightened the grip on the levers of power by the financial sector of the world. Compromise did not mean meaningful co-operation between two opposing parties to agree to work for the greater good. Compromise, it turned out, meant compromise of our integrity.
The rhetoric of the active community paints a pretty clear picture. The idea, for example, that millennials are “saddled with debt” and the assumed degradation of one’s life is certainly true. Perhaps if we were historians from the year 2100, we would have said that this generation lived in a labor system of Neo-Indentured Servitude.
Assessing it from a systematic standpoint is important. It says something that the pattern of our life seems to be to dream of a life of freedom and then to be woken up by a reality of financial obligations. And again, it is conventional wisdom that will accept artificially-sourced misery such as this as “simply a part of life - the way things are.” Convention as usual serves to enable a network of powerful people to operate freely, at the expense of the majority of the population, which is standard institutional behavior. So, one comes to the conclusion that this process of ambition and soul-crushing burdens of work is not a product of natural order, but something devised, something planned. (There are reasons and a lot of details. It’s a long story, for another day. Here again, conventional truth is simply a falsehood.
Another obstacle to honest assessment is the immediate surrender to contrived gratitude - that we ought to be grateful for the work of our parents and grandparents for the work that has preceded us. Immediately I think of the statement above, that many of them carry a regret for the mistakes of their generation, for generating a cynical and disempowered culture, for not doing enough. And if there is not regret or reflection, then surely it is actually us who ought to be ashamed of ourselves and them - for allowing this to go on further. For this generation and the previous, surrendering to the series of convenient myths, and conventional truths. For reducing existence to a succession of static experiences.
If this generation is to truly send a message, and if we do not want to become lost - we must accept our responsibility - for ourselves and for those who have come before us. We cannot delay it any longer - the time to really act and build society is now. We have the clarity to think and operate on our own accord. We have perspective enough to resist replicating the actions of the hesitant, the tragically despairing, the ones who are ensnared by malaise, the ones who hold the whip over themselves.
If we are to hold to our capacity to dream, and if we are to bring those dreams to light, we must also avoid falling in love with ourselves. We must find a way, as artists do, to break our ideas out of the prison of our imagination. There are opportunities - it is not that we must “tear the whole thing down” - it is that there are already tears, holes, in the system - and as those cracks open wider, there is space for the new ideas to grow. This is how progress happens. This is how we will claim our place in history.
To be truly good in this world, we must not only treat each other with love and respect - but we must also treat each other with truthful assessments about the state of things. And the truth is that work individually, singular and isolated actions will only replenish
the individual, while the whole of the generation continues in its ways.
The way our generation will find itself, find itself in history - is if it truly generates its idea for the society it wants to inhabit. It is not just a desire but a need - to live in a fundamentally different, and fundamentally better world.
It is tempting to write another piece, given the urgency of the current political situation - it is tempting to compile the usual statistics and economic details into a mosaic - some larger picture that will give legitimacy to the financial arguments for things regarding the human right to Healthcare, or for that matter, the human right to shelter, or food, or water. However, those arguments have been well-established elsewhere - for example, by organizations like the Physicians for a National Health Program, or the variety of organizations - from UNICEF to the United Nations - on the non-scarcity of food and water.
It is evident, however, that such arguments do not rupture cynical attitudes or reverse feelings of powerlessness. Observation of the political culture of the United States, its effects on the psychological existences of the population, and the attitudes of the political elite might lead us somewhere in our inquiry. The question is "what is preventing changes that would better the society, given that the facts have already been laid out?"
Well, there are a number of ways to proceed in terms of researching such a question - sociological analysis and study of the fresh commentaries is the common way. I'd like to suggest that the following -- simple observation and contemplation might lead to equally valid conclusions. If you are an organizer, or an activist, and the character of your ideology is radical or progressive, I submit the following as evident truth:
Organizing requires a long term commitment - social change of any sort doesn't happen overnight, and the illusion of spontaneity is the result of many years of dedication - a few days of successful protest is usually the result of months of door-knocking, scurrying about, coffee-fueled epiphany-generating exchanges. The ideal is always in mind, or at least, the moral clarity and sense of urgency that is provided with such a need. It is a temptation for the exceedingly vain to intellectualize the matter - social change being the result of some mysterious hand, or a shift in our spirituality, or some massive psychological leap, or cries about social renaissance and the 'round-the-corner revolution. Perhaps it is much harder to admit work like this is the result of simple virtue: A focused-mind, an open and willing heart, talk, and a willingness to participate in the happenings of the society.
There are some common obstacles. In my experience, the hesitation that precedes change is perfectly expressed in the sentiment that an "outside observer" - our neighbor - may "sympathize" with what we are doing, they may "support" our goals and idealism, and even the specific aim - but "not enough" people will care, not enough support will be garnered, or some variation of candy-coated apathy. It is a frustrating irony that this sentiment, which demonstrates active concern for the political direction and the corruption of institutional behavior, prevents active involvement.
Another variation is in our definition of participation. A person who may be in agreement with certain matters in principle, may disagree as to what the proper method is to induce the changes we seek. It is custom in our culture to take pride in the elections - even if it is apparent, paradoxically, the futility of relying on this ritual. With a signature enthusiasm, we will be told to vote in the next election - that if we don't vote, we cannot complain about the deprived social conditions that we are subjected to. That more people should vote - and, of course, if we could only get an honest fellow in office, the problems would evaporate, simply, as a puddle evaporates after a storm. Come election time, that collective enthusiasm is demonstrated by many educated people - that we ought not to be cynical, that we ought to vote and the hysterical insistence that it does make a very large difference. There is additional frustration here, because, though the enthusiasm and authenticity of the sentiment is surely verifiable - so too is the recursion of disillusionment and inevitable feeling of uselessness and powerlessness that follows when a the love affair between a certain political figure and the public comes to an end. Take your pick with any of them, and some fraction of the population will feel this way. So that limited definition of participation results in self-limitation, and limitation of political possibilities. Participating means something more
Organizing means something different for everyone, of course - but there is the sense that a social change means something in our daily lives changes as well. It means that the merry-go-round, day-in-day-out endlessness transforms into something other than passive observations of headlines at the end of the day. It means that we are striving for some lost, or never discovered vitality that this life deserves - for oneself, and for everyone. It means that the culture of political participation doesn't limit itself to election cycles, or outside observations through academic lenses, or viewing the work of others simply to restore our faith in humanity. Political participation means that we play a part, ourselves, in creating the culture. A culture that is capable of educating itself, a culture that is capable of generating its own solutions and putting them into action. It means that it does not rely on viewing institutions through an illusory lens, static and unchanging. It means perceiving their flexibility, their fragility and moving to change their nature.
The remaining obstacle is the simple fact that a cultural change is just that - a change. Explaining in explicit detail what such a cultural change would consist of is nearly impossible, given that there are few precedents in American history - this isn't a grandiose or self-celebratory statement - it is simply true that if the aim is to produce a new mode of thinking and acting in political culture, there is a very limited selection of historical examples to pull from. Surely, though, intellectuals have attempted to flesh out definitions of what is called "participatory democracy" and have given it an ideological genealogy: Athens, or models of direct democracy in South America (what's called the Landless Workers Movement) or, other systems of social democracy, but that isn't quite the aim, either. Discussions like this tend to be derailed by pedantic criticism.
Beyond that, it is impossible for one to assess the accuracy of critiques like this without direct exchanges with those who are putting effort into realizing these ideas. In addition, it may be intellectually entertaining to suggest that alternatives are possible - but it is a display of moral timidity that such notions - direct action and normalized participation - remain only in the realm of our ideas. But there are current examples to look to, experiments in changing political behavior are happening right now.
The Health is a Human Right Campaign in Maryland has been well underway for quite some time now. A little over a year since its inception, it has progressed toward the realization of the cultural changes that are necessary . Again, without any of the signature grandiosity of commentators - the simple actions of dedicated people have begun to have an effect on the state population. The Health is a Human Right Campaign doesn’t herd itself behind conventional political leadership, it informs its own communities directly of their power through things like speakouts, public forums, letters to local papers. The simple fact that language has meaning carries itself into community discussions with people - some who would consider themselves apolitical in nature may realize their political power, here. Discussions like this allow a platform for an honest assessment - free of political labels and banners - of the damage to personal life caused by the system in place.
The campaign organizes itself in a principled way. Those who organize in their communities are a part of them - an organizer from Southern Maryland is familiar with the psychological terrain of the area. Local events, county fairs, farmers’ markets - it is not someone who is alien to the community that speaks with them. It is literally a friend or neighbor who, like all of us - is seeking to understand what is happening here and everywhere, and is wondering if it is possible to do anything about it. Superficial rhetoric means nothing here. This is about building relationships with people who are directly around us.
Simply getting people together to discuss something has an effect. It shows us that there are people who are in our lives already - who are ready, like us, to see something new happen.
Perhaps it's best summarized, and may be oversimplified in the sentiment that we ought to "just do it." If we want to see something in the world, we ought to just do it. It may be easy to dismiss the sentiment as too idealistic, or even naive, but given the darkness of the current social reality, a bit of naivety, a bit of a spontaneous ethic such as this may be more than a nice thought - it is desperately needed.
I thought it would be useful, perhaps most important, to write this letter to the radical youth today who would categorize themselves as “Marxists.” As to why it is important, it is because the term is subject to ridicule by those in positions of power, and as to why it is important for us to consider today, as anti-capitalists, perhaps it is because it has an attraction, a vanity, a romance to it. I am writing this to address with sincerity those who will insist, as I have insisted in the past, perhaps reflexively, or with a reactionary force, that “Marx was Right.” It would be foolish to deny Marx’s contributions to our understanding of the world. Any commentator denying his importance should be considered a political illiterate. However, if our aim is, as Marx once said, “not only to understand the world, but to change it,” it becomes a part of our task to question the philosophical doctrines that inhibit our way to progress. For the sake of that progress, we should consider whether or not the doctrine of Marxism has become an obstacle in our way forward. With internal contradictions between its advocates, and those contradictions strong enough to be considered opposing forces, the usefulness of the term for us comes into question. With this in mind, I think, the disposal of the doctrine of Marxism is necessary. Today, we need new language.
Important to note that this is coming from someone who would consider himself “anti-capitalist” by principle, and politically radical, in favor, like the Marxists, of a fundamental transformation of our institutions and the way they function. State capitalism has failed us, and we are left, as the youth and anyone in serious contemplation of the politic today, to search for, or create viable alternative systems. The political left and right, here, seemingly diverge on a surface level: radical left considerations on the one hand, and libertarian conservative branches of thought on the other. Those who would subscribe to the American strain of libertarianism have in mind certain economic models that in their view challenge power - that is, an economy in which the government plays no part at all. The American libertarian will insist on a free-market, with no constraints by the State. It is my opinion that the advocates of this line of thinking are mislead.
It has a tempting allure for some, because they insist they are challenging a system of power - that private institutions, having cut themselves loose from government and public regulations are striving toward an ideal in the freedom of choice. Money is the determinant of survival, then, and the survival of the fittest institutions will play a part in moving forward, making progress away from the mediocrity and mundanity that insufficient government spending produces.
As a Marxist, you will accept that this is an immoral outrage, of course. The private institution has an undemocratic character as rigid and perhaps more-so, than that of the state. We play no role in electing CEO’s, managers, and have no role in formation of the policies of those private institutions that make up the conduct of working life - wages, sick leave; overall treatment of employees is deferred to an authority that is pure tyranny. Here, it is actually the State that plays a role in alleviation of such harsh conditions. The State’s assistance monetarily, as in food stamp programs, social security and Medicare are a few small examples of the benefit of the State - the increase in life quality provided by those services is not to be taken for granted. And, there’s progress within that domain. We might think of Vermont’s promise here, to bring about Universal Healthcare by the year 2017, or, the promise to raise the minimum wage in Maryland to $10.10 an hour by the year 2018. These are things that expand the freedom and possibilities within American working life considerably, and these incremental changes are indeed something to consider.
Rosa Luxemburg, as a Marxist intellectual, as a revolutionary socialist exercising integrity - would remain true to the need for spiritual and social transformation beyond these reforms. That is, that moderate reforms like this are necessary insofar as they enable the population to further the ultimate goal: Revolution, the end to profit motive, the end to oppressive economic ways of life.
Here, I am hopeful we will not be dogmatic in abandoning our efforts for reforms: education, health care, shelter, food, clothing - things of necessity are able to be provided by a functioning state, based on the principles in the human rights dialogue, and the careful construction of social and public institutions. It would only be harmful to our efforts to say that an action performed by the State is inherently malicious, especially if the demand comes directly from the population. Advocates of moderate reforms should be considered allies to our cause, and alienating them would be unwise. It is about helping people, it is about something that makes a better quality of life for people we know and do not know. It addresses suffering, then.
The importance of reform and necessity of social revolution opens up to a bigger question about the ways to proceed in terms of dialogue. The use of the term Marxist, and our allegiance to that term comes into question. The debate of the last century seems to have been over - the programs of Lenin and Stalin - were they faithful to Marx, or sick perversions? We might think of Trotsky, or, others who will cite the Russian Revolution as a faithful realization of Marx, that the socialist revolution was carried out in good faith, that Karl Marx was vindicated. Or, perhaps those who are honest about the disaster of yester-year - the killings and genocide in the name of Marx, (like a crusade in the name of God) were horrible enough to hold him responsible for that - Maoist doctrine, Pol Pot, and others.
We could look at the system of American media as well, and the functions of anti-communism and anti-marxism, the distortions of history, the covering of our own atrocities and demonization of the term, the ideas of Marx - his life and work left in shambles. One could think back to the media’s labelling of candidate Obama’s mislabelling as a socialist. In turn, his policies, which have actually perpetuated the problems of State-Capitalism, have been labelled as socialist programs, and thus, their failures are attributed to a socialist agenda. The insistence, then, is that Marx is dead, again and again and again.
And it is worthy of consideration, that he is most certainly not: The accumulation of wealth leading to an horrendously impoverished conditions, the concentration of capital leading to a tragically corrupt state that serves the private interest, the profit-motive as a destructive mode of thought, as a mismeasurement of the value of someone’s time, their labor, their body and soul.
There is so much he was correct about, and it is tempting to wrap ourselves in the red and black flags. To scream that Marx was right, and that an impulsivity, an urgency for the social upheaval will need to take place. It is true, it is true, he was right, we swear by His name!
But I am asking for a moment, here. Marx’s concern about the alienation of labor and the isolation of ourselves from our work will here inform us. It is worthy to note, that he did not call himself a Marxist, for the conflict of reform and revolution did not exist - his lifelong colleague Fredrick Engels quoted Marx in a letter to Eduard Bernstein, dated August 5th, 1890:
The materialist conception of history has a lot of them nowadays, to whom it serves as an excuse for not studying history. Just as Marx used to say, commenting on the French "Marxists" of the late 70s: "All I know is that I am not a Marxist."
And with this in mind, it is worthy of consideration that the term, the doctrine of Marxism may be inhibiting our way to progress, and certainly, pushing social revolution into a realm of impossibility, away from serious discussion in the domain of the general public. The doctrine of Marxism has imprisoned the hope for the upheaval it longs for.
Marx is alive, and with us. But Marxism, as a semi-philosophical doctrine, as a political entity, should die if we are ever to see any hope of a serious revolution.
As you will hopefully learn, my friend, in engaging political activity, the revolution is a process, not an event - it requires specific knowledge in some cases - policy, law, a relationship between the disowned of the society, and the captains of the society, a patience beyond all measure, a surrender, reluctantly, of our utopian dreams, for this life. A knowledge that those dreams belong to our children, but that the responsibility for building it belongs to us, because we love them.
It requires work, in the domains of the intellectual and direct alike, to know what will help people. The irony is considerable, those who are driven to identify as Marxists alienate themselves from the work that needs to be done. There is a dying planet, and many real issues to work on: environmental, health care, poverty, the dying intellectual culture, the debt machines in education.
The critics of Marxism will often use the term “dogmatic.” And, I think that is correct. We are wrong to engage in circular arguments about whether or not Marx was right, about whether or not the societies which existed were true to his doctrine. This is academic and pedantic. It is something that will continue to isolate us, and that is certainly not revolutionary.
More important than justifying Marx is justifying the dreams for a better life, which we all share.
He is not a savior, he is not a leader, though his ghost marches beside us, as an equal, in our struggle. Work is to be done, specific knowledge will be required to carry the revolutionary process forward.
Abandon dogmatism for the sake of the revolution. There, we will find all colors; not just red, but a dazzling array of all colors and philosophies. Real work is being done, everywhere. It would be a nightmare for Karl, if we continued to bicker while the suffering of real people continued. It would make him happy - if the goal is indeed to understand the world honestly, and to change it, and liberate it from oppressive elements - to know that even if his name was not in our lives, the work of bettering the world, in authentic concern and sincerity were to continue, with or without his name attached.
"Stephen Wallace is a musician and autodidact from Calvert County, Maryland. He is currently an organizer and freelance writer. He writes on radical politics, human rights, and the history of ideas."
For questions, or comments, Stephen can be reached at: