I didn’t notice the flag behind me at the time

I wanted to dust things off a bit and get my writing muscles going again, if for no other reason that to get ready for school again, more  on that later: I do frequently think about doing things for the site, I have ideas for new podcasts, quite of lot of new meditative insights, a number of changes to keep people updated on, and clearly the world situation and our ongoing march into the crisis narrative has a lot to it that can be spoken of.

In large part I worry I may have succumbed to the general disorientation, fecklessness and helplessness that appears to have infected almost every aspect of social discourse and people’s attitudes to it, and expressed itself most acutely in the sad spectacle of the occupy movement, so I’m making a conscious effort to shake off my ambivalence about engagement with these issues, at least long enough to check in with my audience. gotta start somewhere, so I’ll just uncork the bottle and see what comes out. Bound to have few posts in me this month.

From the top: My plans to follow up on the hunger strike for economic justice were sort of pre-empted by the explosion of the occupy movement last autumn. People have sometimes asked me to talk about my ocuppy experience in more depth, and hopefully this will be a small start in that area.  I mean, I certainly cannot take the slightest shred of credit for kicking off a global backlash against economic and political corruption, but I can least be gratified I was still a couple months ahead of the zeitgiest on that one, and maybe helped to seed the public mind, at least in my neck of the woods. The odd timing is an ongoing source of bemusement to me, I assure you.

I just got finished last summer trying to launch a thoughtful public dialogue about resource distribution and the necessity of moral progress in this area, and suddenly thousands of people are marching the streets to this very tune. And yet I could not for the life of me get any of these ‘general assemblies’ to engage in any substantive political dialogue, let alone converge around actual action points with any mass traction.  the whole thing devolved into a nightmare of orwellian ‘consensus’, politcally correct censorship masquerading as ‘inclusiveness’, explosive outbursts of barely disguised Oedipal  rage at the authorities and each other, and a general inability to think coherently about anything besides nebulous affirmations of good feelings and the importance of a utopian commune in the public square. If it sounds like bad comedy, sort of a reprise of Ariostophanes Clouds, but with more urine flinging and Reiki priestesses, that because it was and is.  If it sounds like I am bitterly disappointed, particularly now that it is clear the mass upsurge died on its ass last summer and won’t be back this year, that’s because I am. Maybe I’m wrong, but if the the people I met are anywhere near as shocked and disgusted as I am about the state of mass movements in the 21st century, I don’t think I will be.

I think the failure of mass movements in this setting are a sign of state power reaching diminishing returns.  The tea party lunatics probably seized the last real window to hijack the political system for their agenda, and even they have not amounted to much, except for increasing the rate of stagnation and ruin in the political and economic spheres. Mass movements generally work by applying pressure on institutions, which only works if the institutions are actually capable of doing anything. However most of the institutions in question are essentially bankrupt along every axis; financially, ideologically, morally, you name it. Applying pressure to these structures right now will only cause them to fracture and devolve into less and less useful forms. You go out into the street to protest bankers and fight austerity, they ignore you, toss out your elected officials and replace them with banker technocrats, tighten austerity and proceed to the next bailout. Think I’m exaggerating? Look at Greece.

You try to change the dialogue, it changes right back, and stupider than before. You try to educate people and build political consciousness, you get called out for being a shill of the united nations, an intelligence agent, a malthusian, heckled for being a white male, shouted down by angry homeless people, chastised by decrepit old hippies, drowned out by drum circles. You want to involve unions, teachers, nurses, working people, and debtors, and they get alienated by hitler quotations, child porn, and chemtrail enthusiasts… and all that’s before the media and the cops go to work on you. Decades of culture war have rendered us into the psychic equivalent of child soldiers in uganda: fucked in the head and shooting each other for no good reason.  Alex Jones is the Joseph Kony of the western activist counter-culture. Fuck me, Joseph Kony is the Joseph Kony of the western activist counter-culture, as I found to my dismay on campus this year. Are people really only noticing this now?

Something else needs to happen. And what is that you may ask? The state knew it was hitting a wall decades ago, that is why they keep trying to unload everything onto ‘the market’, but as of 2008, ‘the market’ has hit its own wall. The brits are now being fed the next thing which is called The Big Society, which is more or less a code word for ‘you’re on your own’. Cue London Riots. Fingers crossed that open source, superempowerment ala John Robb, network culture, fab labs, and radical consciousness change will pull a rabbit out of the hat. More and more it’s looking like the good old bottleneck at the end of history. Except there is no end, and nowhere to go for there to be a bottleneck to, only a webwork of chasms opening up between those of us who actually want to understand what is going on and do something about it, and those who just want it all to go the fuck away.

One mustn’t underestimate the death instinct; the part of us that wants to destroy itself and everything around us, rather than deal with guilt, shame, despair, anger and the failure to deal with responsibility. You gather people together in the name of ‘consensus’ and they end up hating each others guts and agreeing on nothing at all, because they’re all too involved in their own solipsist bullshit. This is the way the world ends. Yeah you got hurt. Join the fucking club. the solution is not to get the entire world to acknowledge and share your pain. If we need group therapy for everyone before we can feed and house the poor, we might as well fold up the world now and and go home.

Sometimes the apocalypse can look better than admitting you were wrong, working hard to be better, swallowing your pride, and facing that there are precious few magic bullets and tipping points in life. If you want to be fit you have to watch what you eat and exercise every day. If you want to live in a better world, you have to think hard about the next right thing, and do it, every day. Don’t let anyone or anything stop you. There is nothing else.

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11 thoughts on “The Next Right Thing

  1. Welcome back.

    You know, I’ve been reading your blog for years, it’s been quite an influence on my life and worldview actually. And here we are, reaching the point when everybody wants to do something and nobody knows how.

    I had a similar episode of disillusionment with anarchists, back in the day when I found CrimethInc enlightening. Except nobody knew what to do with this enlightenment, and spent their lives between armchair Marxism and protesting about some shit that doesn’t matter and alienates everyone.

    Still, I guess there always remains a better direction than sitting on your ass and crying about how everything is going downhill… but I’m kinda struggling to find it, honestly.

  2. Hey Zac. Welcome back to the interwebs.

    Well, I know you didn’t have a lot of fun with Occupy, but I think there is a more optimistic interpretation of the phenomenon (one that, eventually, was lost even on the movement itself…).

    As I was saying to John Zerzan today (and it’s not every day I get to say that!), to me the Occupy phenomenon was like a mushroom sticking its fruiting body up above the forest floor, to spread more spores about the place for a brief period and then die back; but the rhizomatic network under the soil remained intact, indeed, grew stronger for the broadcasting of its genetic information across a wider space.

    Sans the torturous metaphor, this means that Occupy was an eruption of libidinal energy, the major benefit of which was simply to remind people of its own unmediated, unassimilated existence; such that the moment it had captured worldwide attention, its job was essentially done. Anything else – acting as a testbed for collaborative democratic techniques, building connections between disparate social groups, providing participating individuals with transformative experiences of purposive community – was just a bonus.

    This is why, for me, attempts to create a list of demands or to wring a structural program of organisation and intended goals was doomed to failure – not to deny that effective political action requires these things, but just to suggest that Occupy was not synonymous with or well-suited to such political activity. It was as a semiotic instantiation, a situationist refusal of the established frames of thought and debate, that the phenomenon had power. And this power

    And it was when the movement itself forgot that, and attempted to outlast its natural lifetime (rather than trusting that its energy and momentum would re-emerge in a new, evolved form in due course) that it fully lost its way. A presumption crept in that such a phenomenon necessarily had to become the totality of social resistance and critique, accompanied by a sense of desperate urgency, as if it all had to happen right now, or fail forever – a presumption that, in my view derived from precisely the kind of totalising mentality that the movement originally, intuitively, opposed.

    Of course, as you say, this kind of phenomenon can only be a beginning – it is after such an eruption that the hard work of marrying passion with reason, energy with intelligence, begins.

  3. I will try to be more conscientious about replying to comments than I usually am:

    realis- I keep coming back to some words of douglas rushkoff, who more and more is seeming a worthy successor of the RAW lineage: the most radical thing you can do is to uphold your values in the smallest and most trivial of your interactions. be morally consistent at all times and things get interesting really fast. may be as simple as that. online activism for media sodden consumers has jumped the shark.

    steve- I recall an audio talk that dougald and vinay did, where they wondered aloud in slightly despairing tones, whether the egypt uprisings were essentially situationist. we may never know, because islamic thugs and backroom military coups took up the slack for the arab spring. what I think we actually got with occupy was a situationist uprising, except I’m betting upwards of 75% of people in it did not actually know that’s what it was. even here, in spitting distance of kalle lasn and adbusters HQ, the ignorance of what the seed was is pretty absolute.

    I find myself in pretty much total agreement with what you say, yet it is ashes in my mouth, because it raises the spectre that all the western activist really wants is an outpouring of libidinal energy, and maybe an inspiring yet incoherent diatribe from zizek on the human megaphone, then go back to commenting on facebook. meanwhile millions of people keep falling through the hourglass because we can’t face up to economic genocide except to sit around and try to ‘hear’ each other and reach some kind of daft consensus which lacks the teeth to do anything about the actual situation. it looks to me like an emerging cleavage between this kind of ‘libidinal’ situationist activism where the actual fucking model of the new society is tents in the park with a sea of garbage and human waste, and people on the ground in the real shit. the difference between the hakim bey Temporary Autonomous Zone and the No-Go zone if you will. people who want to break loose and people who have simply been chucked out the exit hatch of economic triage.

  4. Zac thanks for the energy you put into your work. I’m struck by how goddam passionate yet pragmatic and disciplined your narrative is. I plowed through a lot of your podcasts a couple years ago and still lean on Systematic for the People quite a bit.

    I have the impulses you mentioned, to want it all to go the fuck away, as my self righteous middle class consumer cocoon pedigree conditioning tempts me here as I’ve found myself all grow’d up, embedded in this capitalist machine, but I fight these urges at the margin. Yeah, keep my focus on the margin, else I’m overwhelmed by guilt and confusion. And I owe some of the tools I use to you. Thank you

    I’m reminded of Buffy the
    Musical for unknown reasons:

    Where do we go from here
    The battle’s done,
    And we kinda won.
    So we sound our victory cheer.
    Where do we go from here.
    Why is the path unclear,
    When we know home is near.
    Understand we’ll go hand in hand,
    But we’ll walk alone in fear.
    Tell me where do we go from here.
    When does the end appear,
    When do the trumpets cheer.
    The curtain’s close, on a kiss god knows,
    We can tell the end is near…

  5. Yer, the paradoxes abound – a generation raised in a milieu of virtualised, postmodernism culture are very likely to make the error of thinking that thoughts, words and images are enough; but, in such a society, thoughts, words and images are indeed where a great deal of power lies, and must be engaged with.

    I guess my bottom line is that I prefer the world where Occupy happened to one where it didn’t – nothing about the way it developed really surprised me, and it never fully engaged with the reality of the global situation, but, as a result of it, a lot of people are more aware than they were, so it was a step in the right direction. Maybe we won’t know its true impact until the 11-year olds who saw it on TV are on the streets in a decade’s time.

    I guess the main mistake was to forget that squatting a few parks wasn’t actually going to materially change anything on its own – by trying to cling to the physical location and established (lack of) activities through the winter, it went from being a seductive advert for “another world is possible” to an indulgent and semiotically counterproductive energy sink; from representing change, responsiveness and agility to representing staticity, stolidity and stubbornness.

  6. Your comments and Steelweaver’s line,
    “And it was when the movement itself forgot that, and attempted to outlast its natural lifetime… that it fully lost its way.”
    …emphasize a key point Occupy forgot – the first word in Temporary Autonomous Zone is TEMPORARY.
    Pop up, act, fall back – classic guerrilla tactics against a monolithic foe. Why stand around and wait to get to get hit?
    Even Anon have figured that out.

  7. Heroes4sale- It’s good to know that people can keep coming back to my work for something useful. makes it worth the hosting of it, certainly. I know I’ve got a fairly uncommon blend of traits in my narrative. it’s not always easy to live with, I can tell you. My gf has all the boxed sets for buffy on the shelf four feet from where I sit, and I must say I’ve never watched any of them. firefly seemed like a more manageable bite, so that’s what I did. and if whedon does something, avengers is a bit more my bag. or cabin in the woods ( yowza!) someday, someday

    I guess what comes down to is how I finished the health series: no matter how fucked up it gets, we don’t get the right to give up on ourselves, or anyone else. you sit the fuck back down and keep working. if you fall over, someone else picks it up where you fell.

    steve- again, i cannot find myself disagreeing with what you say, but not sure I can put much stock in the whole ‘kids comin’ up’ thing. I’m sure the 68’ers were saying much the same about the next generation and they sure seem to be singing that song now, all evidence to the contrary. vinay has probably shared his harry potter youth story with you, and I’m just not sure it washes. this theory of generational maturation and turnover only holds up when conditions stay stable enough for the kids to know what they are actually rebelling against. the change now is so rapid that conditions on the ground are unrecognisable from a few years ago. the kids don’t even remember something before the war on terror, let alone late 90’s millennial syndrome. they increasingly don’t remember what came before economic turmoil, political helplessness and flaccidity, and an internet that didn’t exist inside google and facebook. my worry is that environmental collapse, failed states, ubiquitous instability and low intensity warfare, crushing austerity, and favlea chic are the New Normal. if they rebel, it will be a totally other and alien direction and we will have lost the chance to have some kind of generational transfer of values, in the rush to have our libidinal moments on facebook and twitter.

    Ian- again, saying that occupy failed to grasp the meaning of TAZ implies that they knew and agreed that was what it was to begin with. I think the real issue is that people got sucked into something they didn’t understand and thought it was going address their real needs, rather than have some kind of semiotic intervention and then go home, while austerity, union busting, creeping authoritarianism and social paralysis march onward. it’s not enough to just keep popping up, tweaking the noses of power and then vanishing. power increasingly doesn’t give a fuck, and tweaking doesn’t put food on the table or pay your rent, nor does it build programmatic depth or lay the foundation for further struggle.

  8. Welcome back, Zac. Wonderful text! To start, I have a critique: “You try to educate people (…)” . Everyone is always trying to educate each other on their views, and there’s some authoritarism on this, mixed with good will. It’s not that I doubt you have very important things to say – and surely many people would benefit from listening to you, as I benefit enormously. You’re a sane voice in the midst of madness disguised as ‘normality’. Still, it’s impossible, absolutely impossible to educate someone against their will. Our schools are the proof of this failure. I remember my co-studentes – and myself – we only learned what we wanted. The rest, we somehow got through the exams, and this is all. If we want to be heard, IMHO, we can’t approach people from above, as we’re used to ‘educate’. The best way is to share, to approach with open heart; if not, at least, infect and hack people’s defenses, with subtlety.
    Of course we can provoke and push people to the boundary where the choice between really listening – or getting defensive – becomes clear; I think you do this a lot on your texts. Still, if the ground is not prepared to a inversion of perspective, chance is people will take the conservative path and just defend their comfort zones.
    Also, re. people being pushed to no-go zone, I think our best bet may be that they fight for themselves, at least as things get bleaker – and they’ll fight on their own way, or perish. Activists and radical leftists can peraphs be of help as they have a few good pieces of theory – if they learn how to present and share this knowledge skillfully enough – but in the end it’ll be only catharsis if the base of the pyramid doesn’t see the need of rebelion to solve their own needs.
    Everyone needs therapy in my opinion. Most of the world is batshit crazy. I was crazy also, and the path to self-healing isn’t an easy one, even with the many comforts I have access to. By “therapy” I don’t mean going to professional psychologists (I don’t trust psychology and psychiatry mainstream); I think the best therapy for many can be experiments of self-management like occupy, squats, etc. (reichian therapy is another good possibility, and a couple others). But before these attempts of liberation can really bear fruits, most people need to eat enough (and nutritive) food, have access to clear water, drop out from opressive lame meaningless jobs (and somehow access or create better solutions to each one’s survival needs), etc, which is not what’s happening with the majority of our race. How can a mass of neurotic people (uncapable of self-management) organize themselves – or be organized from above without everything getting coopted into another elite, another vanguard, or mainstream politics (aka 1% politics) – this is an enigma for me, and the reason for me being also a pessimist. I hope we can find a way. The best I could come up with, after a couple years of obsession, was “chaos, schizoanalysis and tactical media”. Chaos is what will happen, and it’s been always happening, in a degree or another. We can trust chaos to push people to their boundaries. ‘Schizoanalysis’ is how I name the experiments of self-management of one’s body, and also self-management of collective bodies. Tactical media comes at last to provide the eventual theory and information (that is mostly useless without the body being predisposed to absorb that information – and this where facebook activism fails, in my opinion).
    Metta,
    Iago

  9. Iaog- I think you do have a point about self management. probably the saddest thing about occupy was that everyone seemed to be waiting for someone to take charge and supply some direction and yet when they did, or someone showed a little too much personal initiative, everyone went berserk and attacked them for being patriarchal, authoritarian, condescending, etc, and yet, those were the only people actually doing anything. everyone else seemed to think that simply occupying space was doing something, or that this was doing something a lot more than it actually was. it’s almost like the neurosis has gotten so bad that people think simply asserting that you exist and take up space is some kind of radical action. it’s an extremely adolescent view of what’s needed, kind of like a child marching into the kitchen and screaming at their parents that they want to be left alone.

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