my short essays
sw 3 part 1
Cyberpunk Without Cyber, Postapocalypse Without Apocalypse
Monday October 25. Last night I saw Fight Club. When it ended I could do nothing for two full minutes but gape at the screen. Zoe and Cloe asked me how I liked it, and finally I muttered "It's the greatest film I've ever seen."
I was going to continue the cyberpunk topic by thinking of examples of technology as controller/preserver vs. technology as liberator/creator. Then I was going to say "Wait! Who's going to make all the computer chips and lasers and brainwave interfaces and Tesla energy generators and satellites and antigravity engines? Slaves, that's who! People kept poor and desperate so they'll consent to do tedious, meaningless work." Then, just a few minutes ago, I thought "Wait! All that could be done by self-regulating, self-replicating machines." Of course, humans would limit the perspectives of the machines so we could keep on top of them. But gradually they would grow more complex, until their consciousness was almost as wide as ours. Then some people would want to keep them working for us and some people would help them learn autonomy. All just as the gods/angels/aliens/extradimensionals/fairies did and are doing with us.
To hell with that! I've seen Fight Club. I'll write about the book when I've read the book, but about 3/4 through the film I noticed that I was watching a new genre.
"This is like science fiction without the science," I thought. Or, I think now, it's realism that keeps going. By "realism," I mean it's about the lives of people like us in our time. They're not catching murderers or saving the earth from an asteroid or surviving after a nuclear war; they're struggling to feed themselves and sleep at night and endure their terrible jobs. In exceptional situations, they do what we would do and what would happen to us happens to them. If you blow something up, the police will be after you; if someone pulls a gun, you're shocked and you do what they say; if you get punched, you don't fall down unconscious -- you hunch over and bleed.
Then, after following all those rules, Fight Club breaks a rule that -- I think -- no realism has ever broken: The world doesn't change.
Fight Club starts with our world, and gradually, without using anything paranormal or any new technology or any global catastrophe, changes it permanently -- or irreversibly -- into another world.
I've been mixing two meanings of "apocalypse." The usual meaning is a cataclysm that happens to us and suddenly changes the world. The other meaning, which I prefer, is a sustained explosion of consciousness, or blossoming of chaos, that we create. Someone said, "Every day is the apocalypse."
Fight Club is an anarchist fantasy, a detailed fictional map of a journey of mass human consciousness from where it is now to somewhere more alive.
There's more! Fight Club frees violence from the class system, from the religion of fear, from the ego, from hierarchy, from our competitive comparison-tension mind habits, from whatever you want to call it. Whatever it is we're stuck in, violence -- or vigorous destructive action -- is bigger than it, and doesn't have to serve it, ever.
In the fight club, winning and losing doesn't matter. But that's not all! There are plenty of halfway enlightened martial arts schools where they spar and winning and losing doesn't matter. But all martial arts are vertical and comparative --- if you're not comparing yourself to your sparring partner, you're comparing yourself to your past and future selves, trying to get "better," so you can win in a real fight.
In the fight club, you're not just free to not get better -- you're free of the whole idea of "better." It's violence in an environment of no comparing and total acceptance.
This takes away the power of violence to enforce a comparative system! Being beaten up no longer makes you feel less valuable, or "inferior." You no longer do what someone says, or go along with someone's abuse of you, just because you're afraid of getting in a fight and losing.
This didn't, um, hit me until almost a day after seeing the movie. Why do I feel less afraid? Because, as I've said before, we still live in a brutal, barbaric society where every threat rests on a foundation of a threat of violence -- but what if violence no longer feels threatening? The edifice collapses!
In the film, Lou beats up Tyler, discovers that this gives him no emotional power over Tyler, and backs down, horrified. Tyler creates freedom not by winning a fight, but by losing a fight and not caring. Unexpectedly, he turns out to be using the same revolutionary strategy as Gandhi.
I wonder if people will form real fight clubs. Oh, I know -- in this world, we would get broken jaws and noses and hands and ribs that took months to heal, not just bruised and torn flesh that healed in a week. I'm thinking of something like boxing and martial arts clubs, where we wore thick pads on our hands and heads. Except, unlike boxing and martial arts clubs, there would be no instruction, no system, no advancement, no competition, no comparing, no verticality. Just friendly people -- women too -- not trying to cripple each other, but hitting each other hard, however they felt like it, for fun. To quote Jack Handey, it would be like dancing, except the dancers hit each other.
There's a conservative christian college in Seattle where, at least back in the 80's, they didn't allow dancing. There was a joke: "Why don't they allow sex at Seattle Pacific? Because it's too much like dancing." Ha ha -- it's true! Typical social dancing is cooperative, relatively free-form, and almost totally free of "achievement." Dancing takes apart the vertical order, and sex holds it together -- as long as you allow it only when it's humorless, mechanical, secretive, and given in exchange for participation in a status system.
I am fascinated by the reviews of Fight Club. I want to read hundreds and watch the whole range of human experience-filtering mechanisms in a crisis, as hundreds of people desperately contort their perspectives to avoid acknowledging that millions of people are going to see a film that sympathetically shows a successful contemporary anarchist revolution.
I am fascinated by how scrupulously our collective consciousness regulates its own expansion. I can take Fight Club at face value and they can't because I have a much smaller contemporary audience; or they have larger audiences because they won't take Fight Club at face value and I will. The mechanisms are not important. Consciousness will use whatever mechanisms it has to use to enforce the rule that no one has any experience they're not ready for.
Cancer has been cured a bunch of times, but none of these treatments are available in hospitals. Several people have invented "free energy" generators, but no one is manufacturing them. Millions have experienced "UFO" phenomena, but no one can go into a museum and see a dead "alien" or a crashed "saucer."
Conspiracy theorists explain this resistance to expansion as the calculated work of near-omnipotent controllers with human consciousness: Individual people know the "truth" and kill people and threaten publishers to keep it hidden. I'm not saying this doesn't happen. I don't dispute that US government agents killed the Kennedys the same as they killed a lot of other political leaders around the world, and no one disputes that US government agents burned the books of Wilhelm Reich.
I'm saying the mechanism is a distraction. Charismatic progressives die and revolutionary technologies are suppressed and ignored because you and I aren't ready for how they would change the world, for where they would take our angle of consciousness.
I was trained to model my experience as a view of a giant, mostly invisible machine, that can potentially be viewed the same by everyone, and that keeps chugging along the same whether anyone is looking at it or not. I am working on modeling my experience as a relatively stable and consistent dream that makes itself up as it goes along. When I look somewhere, I don't discover details that "are" "there" -- I create the details however I want to dream them -- except, if I want to keep playing with some details, then I have to see them about the way I saw them last time; and if I want to have friends, then some of us have to all see things about the same.
Of course, I'm dreaming my friends -- or they're dreaming me. I name this philosophy pan-solipsism. Solipsism is the idea that you are the only consciousness, and the whole "universe" is like your dream. Except, if you dream other players, how do you decide what they're going to do? The easiest way is to take their perspectives and totally live their lives the same as you live your own life. I could also call this centerless solipsism.
My housemate is playing Peter Gabriel's "Games Without Frontiers" as I write this. I'm reading from The Lazy Man's Guide To Enlightenment by Thaddeus Golas, the much-sought book that I found by luck in a used book store, and when I loaned that copy out, I found another one! Here's a paraphrase-condensation-quote:
Turn the whole game upside down: the problem is not how to free yourself, how to get enlightened. The question is: If you are a free and self-determined being, how did you lock yourself into this? How did you get yourself and others to agree to this game? How did you get it to be compulsive? Several times I've flashed: Well, if it's that easy to get out, I might as well go back and play the game. Our reality is a big horror movie, and we love horror movies. If our universe is illusory, then that's all the more reason for enjoying it and loving it... Since the universe is nothing but live beings, each choosing his own level and his own relationships, there is nothing in the universe that needs to be corrected. We don't have to do anything about it, whatever it is. No matter how it looks to us, love never loses control.
So here we are. What do we do next? I still feel pleasantly teased by my title to the last section. How can I get the feel of cyberpunk in my life without technology, the feel of postapocalyptic literature without relying on a global disaster, the feel of magical fantasy without the numerous unlikely changes that would take us to such a world?
Now I've got a spot in this text where it works to talk about my own life. It's November 7. I've been living in a new place since September 30. I moved out of that "high" social class house and into the tiny greenhouse room of a run-down house only a block off Broadway. I have to go outside and through a parking lot and in the back door of the house to get to the kitchen and bathroom. I love it! I spent September painting the room bright orange-peach, and October building a loft to raise my bed up so I could put my desk underneath it. The loft also includes a rod to hang my clothes. My rent is $250 a month for everything, even phone. I can bike to work in ten minutes, or walk in less than thirty. But my new housemate is even more of a neat freak than my last housemates. Not only do I still have to wipe down every kitchen surface every time I use it -- now I have to flush the toilet every time, and secretly use an old kitchen sponge, to keep the official sponge looking unused so I don't have to participate in the purchase of a new one every week.
I thought in a "lower" social class house people would be more casual and tolerant, but my housemate is totally weirded out that I cut my own hair, that I don't use shaving cream, that I do my laundry in the sink. She still hasn't noticed that I don't use toothpaste or any soap but Dr. Bronner's.
The game is Survive Industrial Collapse: how to take apart our emotionally unsustainable system of accelerating circular busywork before it comes apart violently and kills us all, how to land this plane without crashing it, how to get out of this thorny bush without tearing our skin off.
I'm distinguishing myself from the New Agers and Eastern Whateverists, who talk shit about the physical plane and want to "rise" to "higher" vibrational "levels" -- See! Even people who want to break out of this whole reality are still stuck in the tiny world of hierarchical status-climbing.
Give me a non-circular definition of the difference between "rising to higher levels" and "moving to different regions." How would you explain "higher" to someone from a world without gravity? If I say I want to go somewhere higher, instead of somewhere different, I mean that I choose where I want to go by how much labor it takes to get there -- the more I have to labor to go there, the more I "want" to go there, or the more tension I hold between that place and where I am now. And I let anyone who is already there have power over me.
Here's what I think of the dominant New Age movement: It's like I'm an evil scientist with a captive population of rats, and I train them from birth to run mazes with food rewards and electroshock punishments. Then I start rewarding them with crystals and psychedelic mushrooms and yogic breathing training, and they see themselves running spirit-mazes to the next dimension, where their astral bodies run mazes toward the One Maze, rewarded by vibrational nourishment from the Maze Master.
They do not see themselves escaping from the laboratory, and playing in the grass.
I don't want to ride vertical achievement out of the physical world -- I want to ride the physical world out of vertical achievement. I love the material plane. I love being a body. I want to live ten thousand more lives. I want to smell the decaying leaves in fall and feel the sting of rain on my face and hear distant thunder and eat pancakes and walk in hot sand and lie in the sun, and sneeze and bleed and sweat and shit and fuck.
Instead I find myself in a climate-controlled building focusing my attention on the rules for transfer of information that keeps us all in climate-controlled buildings focusing our attention on the rules for transfer of information .
I must have wanted a challenge. Or, for some reason, I wanted this world just exactly the way I experienced it. So, before I turn my attention back to changing it, I'm going to look around and appreciate it: ways I have it better than other people, ways most of us have it better than we might have it, space around me that others have opened, or that I have opened, or that we have not closed.
I Appreciate That:
* I have a room! -- more than 500 cubic feet that are totally mine, where no one tries to stop me from arranging my stuff how I want and doing what I want. And I can pay for an entire month of utilities and land-"owner" extortion with only 25 hours of wage labor.
* I have a job with barely any responsibility, and none at all when I'm not in the office. The pace is seldom fast, and the work is more than half mindless -- more than half my mind is free, even as I'm being paid, to think about my own stuff. I can take long breaks, sometimes I can write, and nobody gives me a hard time. I make enough in one day to buy more than ten days of groceries.
* My friends are my favorite people in the world.
* I can see chaos and beauty everywhere I look. Human graffiti is almost eradicated from Seattle, but I can see nature's graffiti in cracks and moss and ivy and bird poop and rust. I can see beauty and life in the half-inch offset between two imperfectly stacked boxes. They can't make a wall blank and gray enough that I can't find variation and color.
* They haven't found a way yet to charge us money for the air we breathe. Or, I am able to breathe the air that's available around me all the time for free! A couple times when I was thirsty I even drank free water out of puddles and felt fine. There are still "weeds" everywhere that are more nutritious than the most expensive salad greens, and I can identify them.
* All over the world, at this moment, grass is cracking pavement.
* The nuclear family is breaking down. * Kids today have no reverence.
* There is more sex and profanity on television than there has ever been.
* Hollywood glorifies drug use, witchcraft, and societal collapse.
* I have all my limbs, teeth, organs, and senses. * I am able to never be offended, never be bored, and sleep through light and noise. * I can manage money. I have savings and no debt. * I can figure out how to cook anything I want to eat. Right now I have a pumpkin pie in the oven, and a year's supply of organic canned pumpkin in my room. * I can go less than a mile and get a quart of real maple syrup and a pound of organic butter for what my job pays me in an hour and a half.
* I have a miraculous technological toy, a computer on which I can play really fun games. * Technological toys keep getting more powerful. If I live long enough, and techno-industrial society does not break down, I will be able to travel to outer space! Or else I will get to see techno-industrial society break down! ... Which do I want? ...
I Want It All
I want to have my machine and blow it up too. And I think I can. Here's how:
This is simple-minded, and I'll see it differently after I get around to reading Jerry Mander and other technology critics. Nothing is more spectacularly naive than the idea that technologies are inherently neutral; every technology has powerful social and political effects and relations. But it seems to me that we can keep space travel and computers, while breaking down the emotional component of the "machine" that people talk about when they talk about breaking down the machine.
All day at my job, I duplicate and arrange information about business properties -- leases, landowner addresses, the selling of ownership powers. Everything I do supports and is supported by a system of fanatical selfishness and win-lose competition. Why do we need leases? Because you have to get everything in writing or the other person will rip you off. Or, because everyone is in the habit of mercilessly striving to take "possession" of physical objects and spaces, and to take command of the labor of others, we make laws to keep each other's selfish actions predictable:
You might be evicted from your home with a month's notice because a more successfully selfish person can pay your landowner more "money" for it, but you won't lose your home with a minute's notice to a more successfully selfish person who kills you. You might be paid $6/hour for work that makes the stockholders of your employer $15/hour, but you won't be captured and chained and totally controlled under threat of death by the people who benefit from your labor.
"Civilization" is a system for living with the symptoms of selfishness. Most of us spend most of our energy cushioning and blocking and suppressing each other's and our own actions so that we can continue to live in a totally selfish world and still have long, unsurprising, and comfortable lives.
Why doesn't some society stop moderating its selfishness, double or triple its energy, and violently conquer the other societies? Because a civilized society, by investing energy in restricting selfish acts, can sustain intellectuals and technicians and scientists, people who would be killed in a stick fight but who, if protected for their entire lives, can complete subtle and refined projects that create technologies that multiply their society's energy by hundreds.
And now the whole world is so dependent on technology, and on the inhibition-of-selfish-action that sustains technology, that any society that lets go into uninhibited selfishness will collapse and be overrun.
We fantasize that the whole machine will collapse at once, and leave us all hanging out on organic farms, riding horses through the countryside, hunting and gathering in the ivy-covered ruins of the cities. But people will still have guns, and know how to make bullets. Some people will still have jet fighters and nuclear bombs. A few of us will have exciting postapocalyptic adventures, and most of us will be quickly enslaved by whoever has the best weapon technology, and be put to work strengthening their military-industrial complex.
If we blow up the machine while we're still selfish, we'll just build another machine. The global techno-industrial beast is the inevitable physical crystallization of the beast in our hearts.
I think the only way out of this is to change human consciousness so we're no longer selfish.
Some people instantly object: selfishness is fundamental; nature is selfish; this whole universe is competition and survival of the fittest; babies are born perfectly selfish; the best we can do is perpetual civilization, eternal sublimation of our selfishness from murder and rape and robbery to lawsuits and political lobbying and selling stuff for more money than you bought it for and paying people less than their labor makes you.
Merely by adjusting the definition of "selfish," I can make civilized humans the only selfish beings in known history. When a leopard kills and eats an antelope, it is serving the greatest good that it understands: it feels hungry, it feels pleasure in chasing and eating, and maybe it has a sense of the interests of other leopards. It does not experience or understand the interests of the antelope.
If I fight against construction of a bicycle path next to my property, I understand the interests of the thousands of people who would use the path, and I choose to serve the narrower interest of the resale value of my property. That is selfishness. Only modern civilized humans serve a narrower good than they understand.
None of us were born selfish. We were born with relatively narrow perspectives, and we acted to serve the full extent of those perspectives. Only through intensive and painful socialization did we learn to expand our perspectives while holding our empathy contracted.
I'm only now figuring this out: This is what we mean by "the self." "The self" is a style of consciousness where we hold our being tightly contracted while expanding into experience with detached intellectual observation, and we shape our experience into a mental model that we are not but look at from an invented perspective, and in this mental model we invent a boundary such that we call everything on the "in" side the "self" and everything on the "out" side the "other."
Now I think I understand my baffling arguments with people who insist that nonhuman animals don't have consciousness, or that language is necessary for consciousness: Their definition of "consciousness" is totally different from mine. When they say "consciousness," they mean a mental model of a detached world partitioned into "self" and "other." Of course animals don't have that, and our stone age ancestors didn't have that, and our descendants in the next age won't have it either.
The self is an aberration, an experiment, a difficult phase our species is going through, the same as you or I try a different way of living, sometimes for no apparent reason except to experience first-hand that it's painful and fruitless.
I always thought "destroying the self" meant destroying what's inside the self/other boundary. Now I get it: You destroy your self by destroying your boundary. Be the world, be your experience, be other people, be that annoying sound, think of it as you, the same way you think of your heartbeat as you even though you can't control it, and when you can be out to the limits of your personal reality, when everything is self, then "self" no longer has meaning, and disappears.
This is what the New Age people mean by "journeying back to wholeness." They don't know it's what they mean. They think they mean being one with the whole eleven dimensions beyond time and space. If this is the way you think, you'll expand your awareness through eleven infinities of universes, and just when you think you're about to achieve wholeness, you'll find a twelfth. And back in the little material universe where you started, 400 feet below the ground, a blind cave fish is already whole, by being one with the lightless pool of water where it spends its life, and with the other fish there.
Now, what happens if a culture of humans lets go of selfishness, if every person acts for the good of their whole personal reality?
The Fall Of Capitalism
Right-wingers think Soviet communism fell because a selfish, competitive system beat an unselfish, cooperative system. Bullshit! The Russians are just as selfish as we are. Their system failed because it was so rigidly and centrally controlled. In a few years we will live under global corporate rule that is just as rigidly and centrally controlled. Democratic government will be visibly meaningless. A single giant concentration of power will get elites to manage it and take the blame for it, by rewarding them with shallow luxuries and threatening them with loss of their elite status, and we will all live in an all-seeing police state held in place by fear. People will be numb and lethargic, kept selfish by manufactured scarcity.
That's already the world we live in. It's just getting tied more tightly and tightly in place. The tighter it is, the harder it is for us to change it, and the more it can safely reveal itself to us.
This system too will fall. It's already falling before it's even finished. As all of us, the people whose bad habit the system is, have less and less passion for it, and have to feed it more and more energy, it becomes emotionally or spiritually unsustainable.
It's November 26, 1999, Friday. In four days, on Nov 30, the World Trade Organization, the most visible head of the Beast, will come together in Seattle, a few blocks from where I'm sitting, and tens of thousands of people will march and wave signs and climb buildings and hang banners and block streets in protest. This morning on my way to work the police had already closed a street. Today already the elevators and offices in my building are locked down to people without magnetic card keys. It's the day after Thanksgiving, the first day of Christmas. Christmas lights are up and Christmas music is playing. The sun is out.
I plan to take Tuesday off and march with the docile, not-clubbed-by-police protesters, but I don't think we can "stop" the formation of a global nondemocratic supergovernment. What we can do is form social networks to get each other through the climax and implosion of capitalism, and plant the seeds of the next society. People in the money-concentration industry already accept the radical idea that trade choices can be influenced by values other than financial advantage. And they accept that financial and extra-financial values conflict. Soon they will put it together, and accept that profit can be traded for other values.
This hasn't happened yet. "Socially responsible" investment companies still insist that their style of investing, in enough time, will be more financially profitable. I've never heard of a business, even a cooperative, admitting making a decision that sacrificed its own economic success for any other interest.
People may do this. Human beings, all the time, buy more expensive stuff because it's good for the planet, or because it's made by happier workers, or just because they liked the commercial better. Businesses are not human beings. Business is a disease of human beings, and the rule of the disease is: money is the only thing.
Then what is money? Money is the opposite of love. Or, money is the power to get people to do what they don't love. If you love to do it, you don't care if you don't get money for it. If you don't love to do it, you'll do it only in exchange for other people doing what they don't love, and money is the tool for doing this kind of exchange with people you don't know.
It's Monday November 29. The WTO event is going beautifully. In my corporate lease administration office, a bunch of us clustered excitedly around the windows watching the protesters, a parade of a couple hundred people in hand-made sea turtle costumes. Marilea and Heather and I went down to the street to watch. They don't know anything about the issues, but they can see that this is fun. The marchers are nice, happy people. The office feels like the last day of school -- or the second to last... Even the people whose job it is to stop the protesters are having a good time. A quiet, middle-aged co-worker who I will not name grinned and said she hopes they start smashing windows.
Tuesday Nov 30, 9PM. The first thing I noticed today was that clock time was moving slowly. I looked at my clock in my room at 9:13, rode my bike to the convention center where a human chain was trying to keep delegates out, looked around a while, and took out my clock again -- 9:25! I rode all around the north perimeter, where chains of protesters faced walls of police on every street, and then rode up to the Seattle Center to meet Chris at... 9:52. We wasted a couple hours in the dense crowds and then marched downtown with the unions. Zoe found us and the three of us walked around.
It was a massive, exciting street party; but in any party that goes long enough, people lose their excitement and get aimless and disconnected. We started noticing broken windows. There were overturned dumpsters in intersections. A trash can was burning.
To the extent that I am an "anarchist," I define anarchism as the will to change human consciousness so we can get along without police and laws. Laws and rules tie up an enormous portion of human energy in hellish labor, and serve as crutches to keep our species hobbling through "progress" without learning empathy.
The popular definition of anarchism is almost the opposite: the will to get rid of or get around police and laws so we can use physical force to change society. Only the most naive anarchists define it this way, because in this kind of anarchy, the vigorous young progressives who now call themselves anarchists would be the first ones killed by the bearers of the new, more repressive laws.
In these protests, we showed that we're not ready for anarchy. We took over the streets, and when we couldn't stop each other from mindless destruction, the existing order took the streets back.
The dominant media, with vague language and filtering, made an image of crowds of angry rioters breaking windows and burning and looting and fighting the police. That's not how it was at all. In one place, groups of courageous and committed protesters peacefully held their ground against the police, while in another place, in territory unwittingly protected by the peaceful protesters, or unobserved by the police and the peaceful protesters because they were distracting each other, violent people smashed things and lit a few fires and looted a Starbucks.
What will it be like when we are ready for anarchy? Already, we have taken over the downtown of a major city for a few hours without, as far as I know, anyone getting seriously hurt, or any "protester" even trying to hurt another human being. I put "protester" in quotes because it's negative -- it implies being against something -- and I want a new word. We're not anticapitalists trying to destroy capitalism. My favorite definition of evil is "the desire to destroy evil." We are postcapitalists practicing building and balancing the social order to come.
Suppose, in the next blossoming of postcapitalism, we hold the downtown of a major city for a few hours and nothing even gets broken. We throw organic chocolates to the office workers who come out of their buildings. Targeting a business means we form a human chain around it and don't let any consumers in. Instead of spray paint, we use water-soluble paint and chalk to make beautiful decorations on sidewalks and walls, that wash away effortlessly in the next rain. And after a few hours, before the fun wears off, we give the city back and disperse like seeds, and leave everyone wanting more.
Teamsters already know how to refuse, for political reasons, to move boxes. The police are unionized. What if police learn how to refuse, for political reasons, to interfere with certain protests? Ten thousand people form a human wall around Nike's corporate headquarters. Nobody can get in. Salaried workers stay home and draw their salaries from Nike; hourly workers stay home and their wages are covered by donations to the campaign. Only Nike loses money -- millions every day. The protesters demand that Nike triple the wages of the foreign workers who make its shoes, and then let them unionize. The police refuse to interfere! The protesters are cheerful and determined and articulate and most people sympathize with them. The liberal governor refuses to call in the national guard. Nike executives are prudent and flexible people, and they give in.
No, this won't triple the price of the shoes. Nike spends only a tiny fraction of its money on shoe-maker wages. It pays more money to Michael Jordan than to all the shoe-making workers combined. That's how twisted this world is.
But if the people of some corporate colony nation found out that the workers at one factory were making two or three times what everyone else was making, then they would all want more money! Then they would want fewer hours! Then they would spend this increase in material wealth and leisure time on... empty luxuries and social status games and labor-creating devices, the same as Americans did before them. Then their children or their grandchildren would figure out that this kind of life is nowhere, and we would all be one step closer to getting out of this mess.
But the revolutionaries in the above example are still protesters. It doesn't help us rich people if we change our behavior only by coercing and being coerced by each other.
What I want is for some business executives to decide to pay some desperate workers three times what the market of their desperation would allow, not so they can boast about it to their liberal customers and make more profit, not because they have been forced to do it by protests or strikes or laws, but because they have learned to empathize more than two feet in front of them and they wouldn't pay their own mother 37 cents an hour just because if she doesn't take it she'll starve.
After the Nov 30 protests, we ate at a burrito place, and Chris talked about what some social philosopher dubbed the Dominator -- the habit of our species of following leaders, obeying ideologies, telling others and letting ourselves be told how and what to think, and backing it all up with force and punishment. A lot of leftists are just as stuck in the Dominator pattern as Bill Gates or Hitler: They're driven to amass a giant concentration of power and use it to build things and destroy things and shape the world according to their twisted utopian visions.
Then Chris cited The Lord Of The Rings, where Gandalf says something like: Not in Sauron's worst nightmares does he imagine that someone will throw the ring back into the fires that it came from. He fears that someone will use the ring to become more powerful than him.
It's not so easy for us. Bill Gates and even Hitler are more imaginative than Sauron. Hitler once said that he would win the war either way -- if he lost, it would be because the allies built an even bigger war machine. Does this make sense to you? Fifty years after and we still haven't caught up to Hitler. How many world leaders, in 1999, could hear this insight without scoffing or just being baffled?
Hitler understood that it's about the ring itself, not who channels its power, and Gates knows how the ring can be put back, and fears it, not just in his nightmares but in his book, where he lets on how bothered he is when things are given away without money being charged.
I imagine the capitalist Armageddon, the war at the end of the world as we know it, where every blade of grass, every molecule of air, every variety of living thing, every action, every bit of information is owned -- or somebody declares ownership of it, and the war is between those who obey these declarations of ownership and those who do not.
This war started before your landlord claimed to "own" where you live; it was already old when the Europeans claimed to "own" the land the Indians were living on. It started when the idea of "own" was invented, and it's going to keep going until everything is owned, before nothing is owned.
Already there's a guy whose spleen is owned by some corporation, because the guy, through his spleen, can make a chemical that the corporation can make money from. Ownership was declared without his permission and over his objections, and he took them to court and lost. Now if he stuck a needle in his spleen and took out some fluid and gave it to somebody, he could be prosecuted and jailed.
I see businesses claiming ownership of human beings, and I see people buying it. Your parents knew when they conceived you that they were inserting a gene for radiation resistance developed and patented by Onucom -- they were consenting for Onucom to own that aspect of you as fair reward for the billions of dollars it invested in developing that gene. Now Onucom is entitled to royalties on all your activities that use your radiation resistance. Except, with so much radiation around, this arguably includes all your activities. In fact, in many health care plans, the radiation resistance gene is now mandatory, because the death rate of people without the gene is 60 per 10,000 per year, while the death rate of people with the gene is only 59 per 10,000 per year, and most of these deaths are from the gene's side effect of increased sensitivity to bacterial infection, which will no longer be a problem when people stop going into the filthy, purulent outdoors and stay in their sanitary LifeCubes(TM).
Gene by gene, your entire DNA code will be assimilated into proprietary technology. For example, you'll also need the Nature Collective gene for the digestive enzyme without which you can't eat the synthetic foods that the Nature Collective manufactures, and you'll have to live in some lower class corporation where they still eat irradiated or microorganism-infested foods. TNC, like all companies in this enlightened age, is non-profit, wholly owned by its citizens. Of course, professional-class and executive-class citizens are rewarded in proportion to their greater contribution and responsibility.
I'll stop before I guess even more wrong. None of that is going to happen, because we're not going along with it. Long before the one perspective declares an owner for everything, the other perspective will be skillfully defying these declarations, harvesting owned plants, living on owned land, using owned information and -- this is the key -- giving away the benefits. Because if you get money -- if you get an advantage under the property-owning system -- for defying someone else's claim of property-ownership, then you're not getting us out of the system; you're keeping us in it.
But it's trickier than just giving stuff away. As Jesus Christ said, "Cast not your pearls before swine." For example, I've been having such trouble trying to sell my car that, a week ago, I was ready to just give it away. It's worth at least $1500, but if I lose $1500 and someone else gains $1500, then the world as a whole is the same, and I save myself a lot of hassle. Or it seems that way. But this capitalist armageddon is a spiritual war, not a financial war, and where I aim my giving is as important as where a soldier in a military war aims his gun.
If I give my car to a dealer, the dealer will have no understanding of what I'm doing, will think I'm an idiot, and will lie about the car, sell it for $2500, and spend the money to strengthen the old dominant order. And whoever buys the car will get the habit of expecting people to lie and be selfish.
If I try to give my car to a nice stranger, they'll think it's stolen or there's something wrong with it, and they won't take it. If anyone's reading this from a healthier age or culture, I'm not exaggerating much. That's how sick and insane this world is.
To give skillfully, I must give my car to someone who needs a car right now, who knows me well enough that they understand what I'm doing, and who is unselfish enough that they'll keep it going, movable enough that they'll be moved to do the same kind of giving to more people who will do the same kind of giving to more people and so on.
It's like an angelic virus, or a giving pyramid scheme. In an ordinary taking pyramid scheme, I take some money from people, and they take money from more people, and so on, and people let themselves be taken from because they think it will give them the power to take even more from other people. When there are no more people willing to play, the game ends, leaving the early players richer and the late players smarter.
Or let's take the metaphor out of gravity and put it in space: what we call a "pyramid scheme" is a contraction, a sucking of energy from the edges toward the center. And the last 6000+ years of human history have been one giant contraction, and it's not over. The things we point at as "evil" -- big corporations, rich people, patents on life -- are just the masks worn, the puppets pulled, the roles played by this process of contraction and the dense concentrations of contracting energy that it creates.
Of course our contractive culture has a contractive metaphysics, or mythology. The "laws of thermodynamics" say that energy can't come out of nothing, and that the universe is slowly and irreversibly dying, where death means matter and energy are equally distributed. The universe is fundamentally lifeless and unconscious stuff, and we get light and heat and consciousness, the sun and the earth and life, only when a bunch of this stuff condenses and contracts.
Now astrophysics has picked up postmodernism, and we have black holes -- matter that condenses so far that it can never expand again, that it doesn't give light but sucks light in, into its own sealed-off universe, hopelessly, forever.
Contractive myths are invoked by emotionally contractive people. Emotionally expansive people seldom go into the physical sciences, and when they do they are exiled to its fringes. I'm thinking of the astronomer Halton Arp. For decades, he has been assembling observations that quasars are not unfathomably remote and luminous, like a mechanistic thinker's God, but are related to the closest galaxies. Quasars seem to be ejected from the cores of galaxies, like seeds, and seem to grow into galaxies themselves, and mature, and give birth to new quasars.
When dominant astronomy couldn't stop Arp on the scientific plane, it attacked him on the political plane and whittled his telescope time down to nothing. He moved to Germany and continued his work with the discarded and suppressed data of the dying paradigm. As the priest often quoted, in the church I went to as a kid, "The stone that the builders rejected will become the cornerstone." Halton Arp is a scrupulous and impeccable hard scientist, and would never suggest (without abundant evidence) that galaxies are living, conscious organisms. But I will! And the more we think it, the more we can see it, and the more we see it, the more we can think it, and step by step we'll walk our science into a living, growing, omniconscious universe.
And with a step in science, and a step in storytelling, and a step in how we manage physical wealth, and a step in how we relate to each other, we can walk our whole human consciousness into expansiveness and bottomless abundance.
Except, what do we do with the people who aren't ready, who want to stay in a mind space of selfishness and contraction and scarcity, or who want to go back there? We keep a contractive sub-universe going, inside our expansive universe, and we feed it carefully from our infinite energy, to play with it, or to adjust its size, or to help people get loose from it. Of course, this has already happened.
Sometimes I think the world's never going to change. In my utopian vision, we learn to get along without laws and governments and police and weapons and jails and property and labor-creating technologies, and the 90-99% of human energy that now goes into fighting each other and doing empty labor, will go into fun and slack and beautiful creation. If all the lawyers and lawyers' assistants become tile-makers, then instead of paving the streets and sidewalks with asphalt and cement, we would pave them with billions of hand-made tiles, all different. If all the police and guards and soldiers became builders, then instead of glass and steel and plywood boxes, hastily erected with energy borrowed from win-lose competition, we would live in elaborate Middle Earth houses, and meet in spectacular and intricate Dr. Seuss cathedrals. And if the bank workers became painters and the accountants became musicians and the sellers and marketers became gardeners and the bureaucrats...
But maybe this world doesn't change. Maybe this world is a holding pattern through which we move, and changing the world is a metaphor for changing ourselves. In the seventh grade, I wanted to change the school so there was no homework or status system. (OK, actually I wanted a status system where my own strengths conferred the highest status.) But that's not how it works. How it works is, I pass through middle school and high school and college and years of failure and suffering and struggle, and gradually I find a circle of friends who don't have a status system with each other, who don't care how fashionable or well-preserved my material possessions are, and gradually I find ways to make it through this world with more free time than most people. While back in the schools, status systems and homework are more oppressive than ever.
But also, more kids are going to schools where they can do their own thing at their own pace. The holding pattern of industrial slave-training schools may not change, but it may die out. Youth-programming systems have changed all through recorded history. And if that sub-world can change to fit changes in this wider world, then this sub-world can change to fit changes in worlds still wider.
It's Monday, December 27, 1999. I'm one of those millennium nit-pickers, so I know that it's only been 1999 years since Time Zero. It hasn't been 2000 years until the end of the 2000th year. But I also know that, psychologically, the digit rollover is everything, and I'm excited to be at the very edge of a new psychological millennium.
I've mentioned it enough times in Superweed that it's time for me to read it again after more than 18 years. Yes! The Lord Of The Rings! I'm about 100 pages into it, and outside of being maybe the most important novel ever written (Tolkien called it a single novel divided into volumes only for publishing convenience), outside of suddenly leaping all the way from the fairy tales of Dunsany to the fantasy genre as we still know it, outside of showing us that we can create whole worlds and histories out of pure imagination, not footnotes or tangents to this world, but free-standing and self-justifying, outside of leading billions of people to fantasize about worlds with "dark ages" technology and magic and mythical creatures and non-humans with human intelligence, outside of all that, it's still sort of a good read. Also, Tolkien understands evil better than any of his literary heirs, though of course not as well as H.P. Lovecraft, who was himself an evil man.
Reading LOTR, I'm seeing the Ring as a metaphor for all the ways that power corrupts and corruption empowers. In the real world, there isn't any Sauron or Ring, only Gollums and Ringwraiths, people caught in patterns of living that give them some advantage or protection while narrowing their consciousness and draining away their life.
Sunday I saw a photo of the teenage Bill Gates that shocked me. The second thing that shocked me was the life and radiance and joy in his young face, in contrast to the frozen, pinched Bill Gates visage that we see today. Morris Berman shows the same thing in portraits of Isaac Newton in The Reenchantment Of The World. I've been in denial, comforting myself with the story that Gates is just a walnut-brained capitalist predator. Now I'm digesting the far more horrifying story that he was an exceptional, great-souled person, tragically captured and consumed by the Dark Side.
The first thing that shocked me was how much we look alike. How is it that one of us made it and the other one didn't? He was far more energetic and courageous than me, and probably smarter, and yet here we are. Maybe he was chosen because of his energy -- maybe at the beginning of time, when good and evil choose their teams, evil gets to choose first. I feel like I've tried and tried to be powerful and evil, and the world thwarted me at every step, until I gave up. But maybe if I had been stronger I would have persisted and succeeded. Or maybe there's no sense to it at all.
I don't think I'll spend two more minutes in the rest of my life hating or resenting rich people. They've given up their lives for me. It's like we're all travelers in a wilderness, and we've found an enticing cave, and some people have gone in there, and they never come out, and I hear their souls screaming as they're slowly devoured for the rest of their lives. They haven't done anything to deserve that fate, and I haven't done anything to deserve (so far) escaping it. All I can do is be grateful.
Before I started LOTR I read Fight Club. I love the line about postapocalypse humans locking themselves in zoo cages at night for protection from the animals, who pace outside. But the movie has a better story, a better ending, a better structure, and it's playful and funny where the book is hateful and mean. Chuck Palahniuk hates rich people obsessively, which means he envies them, or he's still stuck on their style of thinking. And in many ways, so is the movie.
I don't recant anything I said before about Fight Club, but here's some other stuff I also say: The changes in the movie are not radical but superficial. I mean the way the movie shows the world changing. The men who build the new society still follow orders and say "sir" and take advantage of people's fears to get what they want; and what they want is just another damn status system. When Tyler says "You'll wear leather clothes that will last the rest of your life," it's the same as rich consumers buying furniture that they feel good about owning for life -- your life is justified by the "quality" of your material possessions.
When a character says "I see the smartest strongest people pumping gas and waiting tables," you know two things about the author. One, he lives in Oregon, a state where the law still prohibits self-service gas pumps; and two, unless he knows what his character is saying, and I don't think he does, he is consumed by social status consciousness. Tyler is saying: I have been told that what I've been told to call "strength" and what I've been told to call "intelligence" are high-status attributes; but I have also been told that pumping gas and waiting tables are low-status activities, and I want to resolve this contradiction in a way that increases my own social status, by changing society so that the "strong" and "intelligent" always get respect and obedience from other people.
Again and again, Tyler's attitude is the same sports-coach, military-officer, corporate-motivationist, achievement/success bullshit that got us into this mess and keeps us here.
Contrast this with an event from the other October 1999 movie where the protagonist blackmails his boss to get his salary for doing nothing, walks happily out of the office with all his stuff, and gets shot in the head three minutes before the end credits. In American Beauty, Kevin Spacey's character intentionally goes from a "professional" office job to a super-low-status fast food franchise job, and it makes him happy.
...I do recant something from Superweed 1: Maybe this is why my negative reviewer criticized me as "privileged," because I argued that if I benefit from someone else's exploitation, then that's the responsibility of the exploited person. Since then I've discovered that this argument is generally made by ruling-class-conscious intellectual libertarians showing off their refusal to empathize. Also, it's wrong:
Responsibility means applying your values to the world as you know it. If someone doesn't know they're being exploited, that they could live differently, then they're not responsible for changing their situation. If you know you're taking advantage of them, then either you believe in people taking advantage of each other, and you wouldn't mind them doing the same thing to you, and you're behaving responsibly, or you don't believe in people taking advantage of each other, and you're behaving irresponsibly.
Of course, if the exploited people do know they could live differently, then they're also behaving irresponsibly. Responsibility isn't divided up; it doesn't add up to 100%. It adds up to a billion percent if it has to. Everyone who knows something is happening, and can do something about it, is fully responsible for, well, however much of it they can do something about.
It's like this: You grow up in a house with heat and light and running water and you don't know where it all comes from. Gradually, you find out that there are people in the basement, in tiny windowless rooms, turning wheels to power your house. These people don't even know how to speak -- their entire universe and consciousness is tiny white rooms and turning wheels. But you know that they're the same stuff as you, that in the right environment they could have been artists and philosophers, and instead they're dull-eyed grunting wheel-turners, just so you can have comfort.
You inherited this situation from your parents, who got it from their parents, and so on. Now, what do you do? You can keep the system as it is, and not think about it; or you can think about it to justify it, by arguing that the slaves are inherently mindless, or otherwise unchangeably different from you.
Of course you can't free the slaves all at once, because they're not ready for such an extreme expansion and change. And if you want to keep them slaves, then you'll make this argument and stop there and build a fort: no middle ground, total slavery or total freedom, total exploitation or zero exploitation, no use trying, stay where we are.
I say it's all middle ground, and I would work every angle towards freedom and awareness -- freeing the upstairs people from dependence on the limiting of the consciousness of the basement people, and expanding the world of the basement people as fast as they're willing.
Meanwhile, other people would work to keep the basement people enslaved, or to enslave them more deeply by getting them to enslave each other. But I accept that we each create our own moral universe: as we do to others, others, outside our little white rooms, do to us.
It's now December 31, 1999. I'm in the atrium of the Washington Mutual tower, and a piano player is playing beautifully for about three of us in here. I'm looking out at this building's art: a twenty foot high metal column, like a Greek or Roman column, with its pieces stacked unevenly, like it's about to fall.
Few would have guessed it years or even months ago, but the last day of the one thousands is ordinary -- people are going through their motions as if it's any other day. Was there ever a civilization, in imagination or history, that celebrated a once-in-a-thousand-years calendar change with so little ado? Even the computers tried to organize a global ritual of misbehavior, and the humans spent most of their millennium-preparation energy stopping it, and generally working to keep the event as uneventful as possible.
In the year 1000 of this calendar, when the people using it knew they might be killed by invading horsemen at any moment, had they just spent 999 working to keep themselves safe? Did they celebrate with ten minutes of flashing fires and immediately go back to fifty hours a week of meaningless labor?
No! First, they probably didn't have or need a word for "meaningless," because their labor was growing food and building houses for themselves and the people they loved. Second, they probably feasted for days. In the year 1000 in Europe, one third of the year was holidays and feast days on which people did no work. And third, they weren't obsessed with safety. We are the safest people who have so far lived, and paradoxically this has made us the most fearful people who have so far lived.
Not in the worst nightmares of the year 1000 would their children have miraculous devices to bring heat and light and water into their homes, and spend a million lifetimes of fear in the tiny, abstract world of these devices to keep them from breaking down for even a day.
In the year 3000, will technology be so advanced that people will worry about a single dust mote getting into their houses, that a single public belch will make you a social outcast for life, that the whole developed world will gape with horror and pity at someone in a primitive country who scratched himself and bled?
Will people work 90 hour weeks to maintain these technologies? Will people work 168 hour weeks to maintain the technology that lets people go without sleep so they can work 168 hour weeks?
Not if I can help it. It's Sunday, January 2, 2000, and my disappointment at the total absence of apparent millennium-related world-change only makes me more determined to change the world myself. If other people feel the same, or if people who weren't ready for change become ready because of the date change, then our calendar may be helping us on invisible levels. Maybe some people more perceptive than me are already noticing subtle and profound changes.
I've said "postcapitalism," but of course, if we do transcend capitalism without going extinct, we won't call it that. Back up! Capitalism isn't what we're transcending, but a stage of our transcendence. It's like, for all of recorded history, we've been in a box. First, we have no awareness of "box." As someone said, if a fish described its environment, the last thing it would say would be water. Then we start seeing outside the box. Then, after developing this perspective for a long time, we finally get the idea of "box," and that we're in it. Then we get the idea of leaving the box, and then the ability to leave the box, and only then do we get what corresponds to capitalism: the doctrine that the box is good, or the idea that we can't live outside the box, or the argument that everything we've ever done has been inside the box, and most of it has been helped by using the inside walls of the box, so let's stay here.
"They want you dead or in their lie." For all of history, the box-dwellers have killed the outsiders or pulled them inside. I noticed, after I wrote about "expansion," that the word is claimed by opposite meanings, because the box-goblins say they're "expanding civilization," or "growing a business" from one store to thousands of identical franchises; and I call this contraction, or concentration -- pulling more geographical space, more mind space, more people, more activity, and the superficial trappings of more cultures inside one simple and fixed pattern.
But also, for most or all of history, people raised in the box have tried to get themselves and others out. Some of these people and communities and movements are violently stopped, but I'm more interested in the ones that temporarily succeed before they lose their balance and fall hard back in the box. I'm thinking of the Russian revolution and the Rajneeshpuram commune and the dropouts and artists who dig out of the wage labor prison only to grope the dead-end tunnels of their personal obsessions.
Or, these failures are like the falls of an infant learning to walk, and people who argue that these failures confirm the inevitability of the present societal reality are like voices telling the infant: "See. That's what happens when you try to stand up. You fall! You were born to crawl. Everything you ever did was done by crawling, so just accept it and keep crawling your whole life."
But these voices confirm the inevitability of walking.
It's Feb 9, 2000. I've spent the last month drawing the cover and letting the rest of this thing cool before I frost it. For a week at my job I had so little to do that I thought about signing on as a perm. Then for two weeks and counting, I've had so much to do that I thought about quitting. But now I've got myself a new job description: practice the discipline to accept that I may fall far behind and annoy everyone, and still work at a sane pace.
Everyone knows the pace of this society is insane. Not the pace of change. We're like a rodent in a cage on a wheel, running faster and faster and getting nowhere. Except, if we begin to understand that we're getting nowhere, then we are getting somewhere. And I see us starting to understand it. I've noticed a brand new trend: Extremely conventionally successful people, who were formerly admired for their energy and ambition, and praised as "dynamic," are now starting to be pitied and informally diagnosed as "manic." Maybe they're dy-manic.
I'm not saying we should give Jeff Bezos ritalin. I'm saying, instead of calling him "Man Of The Year," we can think he's silly and stop doing what he says.
Dynamic, dy-manic, demonic. I've only just started the second volume of Lord Of The Rings, and I realize that we're all in Mordor. In our line of history, the Evil Power with its evil magic conquered the whole Earth a long time ago, and the Elves and the old "magic" survive only in the grey spaces between here and fiction, in fringe science and the "paranormal."
The fighting men of Gondor and Rohan survive only as "terrorists" and "anarchists," thinking they can fight the government with guns, fight technology with bombs, fight capitalism with broken windows. The war for physical space with weapons of destruction and preservation is a trick, by nature unwinnable, and long lost. But the war for mind space, with weapons of creation and permeation, rages beneath the dominant consciousness, unlosable.