The good shepherd, whom I pause before to contemplate, appears as a better self, a majestic higher order. I stare at it fearfully, struggling to keep up as its visual-sensual-conceptual being grows, looms, enlarges, steals our breath, overwhelms us with its complexity. “That is not I,” we have to say to avoid becoming Jesuit. The feeling then relaxes a bit, goes quiet. We imbibe earth, nut, matter. This lends us weight, we become caught by a planet’s gravity, our journey as ray of light captured into life, made to inhabit human form for a stretch of time: it is like having to endure soul-flattening, soul-crushing pressure. We mustn’t watch as others are judged, tried, executed, given greater than their due share of suffering. I find myself staring in confusion at the alien customs, the tolerance for oppression, among my countrymen. Let us not become crueler, coarsened by feud, faction, quarrel. Don’t allow groups to organize, lest we plot destruction of kings. Religion is an able resistance to the ways of some dominant Other. It brings judgment, the latter being a kind of power, into politics. Radical believers deny one another the right to live by free means in community with like-minded others. That is the future toward which we are led. Don’t let us get caught in games of conversion and conviction by others who believe themselves lords over the lives of others. Religious wars of this sort are fraught with grave dangers. Political fictions make for dangerous games. Desperate people become led by acts of desperate men. That is becoming common again: states that toy with public perception, inventing stories to command the attention of weaponized masses, turning neighbor upon neighbor. Isn’t that the void into which certain public storytellers, writers of history, wish to plunge us? I mean the Bill O’Reilly’s, the Sean Hannity’s. Sadists who derive pleasure through imaginative identification with the State in its role of public executioner. In the past we called them inquisitors. We mustn’t let them thrive.
Smoke from a neighbor’s fire-pit filled the air. It was a crisp autumn night. I sipped a martini at a local bar, Clover’s references to the Commune reverberating unexpectedly, creating an updated sense of reality. A friend sitting across from me explained the work he does as the head of a local food consortium. When I asked him how I might plug myself in and make myself useful, he directed me to read up on a project called Cooperation Jackson. These are the first steps, I think, toward the creation of the Riot’s successor. Another friend, improving my head in a different way, recommended I watch We Bare Bears. A third friend recalled for me “Transcen-dune-talism,” a spontaneous, off-the-cuff coinage of Clover’s referring to the weedy metaphysics distilled via the famous Frank Herbert novel. Speaking of weedy metaphysics: I spent last night getting stoned out in the woods beside a campfire. Owls came out and spoke to me. Crickets, mosquitoes. At times, a kind of pressure from all sides. The universe inspires an awe laced with terror. A push back into an attentiveness toward matters of survival. A becoming-responsible again with regard to one’s daily self-reproduction. I sat in a lawn chair thinking, “I haven’t really challenged myself like this since Boy Scouts.” Hiking, collecting wood, assembling a fire on which to cook one’s dinner. All mixed with an ambient apocalypticism. Reality augmented via the nightmare of precarious employment. We’ve arrived at the dawn of the idea of global imperial civil war. How are we to navigate our way in this ever more paranoid environment? Heavy self-scrutiny: perhaps the problem is that I was raised as a second-generation American suburbanite. I lack social skills, street smarts, wilderness literacy. I survive on pizza, french fries, hot dogs, burritos. How do I prepare myself for the Commune? Where does one even begin if one’s hope is to lay the groundwork for collective extraction from the formal economy? I look upward in search of answers, but (for better or worse), what I encounter instead is a night sky filled with stars.
You’ll never catch me declaring, like Mary Boykin Chesnut into her Civil War diary, “My subjective days are over.” Something tells me, “Mists of memory are where we’re touched by the better angels of nature” — though not the ones spoken of by Lincoln. Mingled feelings of joy and sorrow. How have I escaped knowing all of these articles exist with titles like, “Are we headed for a second civil war?” The believers in magic are the ones who seize the day. “Today,” writes Robin Wright, “few civil wars involve pitched battles from trenches along neat geographic front lines. Many are low-intensity conflicts with episodic violence in constantly moving locales.” Perhaps I should revise a syllabus and assign Omar El Akkad’s novel American War. Nah, just kidding. That book sounds like a piece of shit. I worry, too, that a story like that may, in its telling, inspire people to buy more guns. My sense is that ideological opponents are already waging the war, precisely by trying to implant the war, as aggregate of instances and images, into the nation’s dominant narrative. Period dramas set in the seventies like The Deuce, meanwhile, no longer even attempt to approximate that former decade’s forms. Exhausted internally from work, I stare befuddled at the image-screen in front of me. Inauthentic, overacted: words begin to lose their meaning. Tide comes in and mutters, “Repair to the great outdoors.” The lone wolf dies, but the pack survives. Global warming will melt polar ice caps, says Game of Thrones, and the dead will walk the earth. Remember when the political community used to use the phrase “existential threat”? I kinda think that would make a good band name. Also, let’s hear it for all the Popeyes out there who like to eat cans of spinach. Let us each do as we’re each obliged, AKA “I yam what I yam.” “The evidence is circumstantial,” says Sensi Seeds, “but it is there, and when added together it presents a compelling picture that, for many readers at least, Popeye’s strength-giving spinach is … a clear metaphor for the miraculous powers of marijuana.” Before “Broccoli,” there was “The Spinach Song.” Of course, Julia Lee, famed performer of the latter, sometimes also just came out and said it, as in this more explicit version of her elegantly debauched classic, “Lotus Blossom.” The keys to the Kingdom are there for the taking, hidden only to those who refuse to look and listen.
Now that classes are underway again, minutes of leisure come with no guarantee. A homeless man plops down at the bench across from mine as I sit at a booth in a burrito bar. “Chips?” he asks, gesturing toward some half-eaten ones in a basket on my tray. “Sure, go ahead,” I reply — though afterwards, I’m ashamed, or at least troubled, as by an area of confusion in my evolving, improvised system of ethics. Should I have asked if there was a way I could have been of further assistance (as, I’m fairly sure, I could have)? I can guess what others might say; and giving the matter thought, I’d probably agree. Help wherever one can. But in the event and thus in practice, I am instead often ungenerous and unwilling to sacrifice. As post hoc rationalization, I quote back to myself some unrevised internal policy statement from many years ago, written shortly after my first encounters with Marx had begun to eclipse an earlier commitment to Nietzsche. Reviewing it now, I recall the influence as well of Morton and Zavarzadeh, an unlikely pair of Marxist agents provocateurs who, for a brief spell, held court at my alma mater. It is not the duty of Marxists, they insisted, to go around trying to correct through individual acts of charity the inhumanity of capitalism. Nay, they argued: if one of our goals is to replace ideological obfuscation with consciousness of real conditions, then it’s not enough to just ruthlessly critique all that exists. Instead, like mimes, we “radical pedagogues” must become mirrors of the very ruthlessness we’re critiquing. Remarkable, really, where we allow ourselves to stray. No more living memory. Only histories and myths. The crossroads of our Being — and a hell of a cross to bear. I never know whether I’m writing tragedy or farce. Bartender walks into a bar and looking across the bar asks himself, “What’ll it be, friend?” Everywhere, in every country on earth, humans continue to think themselves John C. Calhoun. How, then, can we persist in imagining twenty-first century America resolving its conflicts through a means other than civil war? Another religious martyr like John Brown, and it is on. Prepare for emergency: hurricane ahead. Aggregate of Communities, prepare to fall apart.