Reflections on Reaching the Statistical Half-Way Point of a Human Life

You’re good, so you ain’t got nothing to worry about. Just stay that way. You’re gonna want to give up. You’re gonna want to start drinking, become a shitass. […] So I guess what I’m saying is be good. Fight evil. You do that and you’ll never, ever have to see me again. Oh… my ride’s waiting. [Whispered] Be good. ” -Reservation Dogs, Season 1, Episode 5

This quote comes from the masterful FX series Reservation Dogs. In this particular scene, tribal policeman Big revisits an incident in his childhood in which he is provided with guidance by a powerful spiritual presence, Deer Woman. I do not know if this is consciously in communication with Stephen Graham Jones’ The Only Good Indians, but a similar figure (an Elk Woman this time) appears in the book to punish men who broke a taboo in their youth. The responsibility for setting things right falls on the generation that follows. I hope that our young people will forgive us for our failures. And so…

For the young who still have hope: 

You’ve been dealt a shit hand. From this point on, being a human being, or any other form of biological life, is going to be an unending tragedy for which you bear little responsibility. 

Were we living in another era it would still be the case that you had no hand in this. You were plucked from nothing. By your parents, sure, but not without assistance from the rest of the species as well. Someone made a consciousness. They may not have had much of a choice in the matter. Few of us have anything resembling real choice, but we’ll get to that in a moment. Whatever the case, here you are. You will inevitably suffer and die and it is up to you whether it’s worth it. 

People around my age were born to a profoundly stupid generation that never grew up or realized any promise or put their foot down to say, ‘Enough!’. A decent portion of that cohort won’t ever stop screaming that it’s not their fault, that none of this is their fault.  

This is a pathetic refrain, but it’s also not 100% wrong. You cannot choose if you don’t know that you can choose, and this is an abysmal thing. At the point at which you realize that you do have some little bit of power it could be too late for much besides guilt. 

I don’t want this to be the case. I very much need to believe that people can transcend themselves and that, to trot out a dated phrase, another world is possible. And as pleasant as it is to contemplate, I don’t think we can kill our way into that better world. There are plenty of people who have tried this and they are monsters. 

None of this is to say that no one has power, or that no one has agency. We do. It’s just that it’s a very limited power. The best most of us can do is to be kind and to cultivate a communism of spirit. 

There’s an inverse to this. Our fleeting power can just as easily be in the service of ruining a relatively small circle of lives, and it’s way easier to achieve the latter than the former. You only need moments to destroy someone, while illuminating their world requires consistency. 

I have gone through life relatively blind to the choices presented. Some of us set out on a platform of confident ignorance and confuse it for knowledge, and I am one of this type. But confronting ignorance puts us in a bad position. There are plenty of people who will be more than happy to let you know that you’re an idiot, but they mostly just offer some other form of dumbness in exchange. 

I will be 40 years old in a number of days. I do not think I realized much of anything about anything until I turned 32. 

It is possible that people still encounter the song ‘Row Your Boat’ in their childhood (or maybe it’s just ‘Baby Shark’ from here on out). There is a darkness to this song. It tells us that ‘Life is but a Dream’. Perhaps this is true metaphysically, and perhaps it is correct that we shouldn’t treat life with much seriousness. But depending on how you interpret this, what if you wake up to realize that what you thought was real was not? Or, worse, that it was real? 

A dreaming person lacks control. They do not choose. They move through a story filled with symbols that make no sense and situations that appear out of nowhere, fully formed. 

I have horrible dreams. People who experience this will know that it is not the nightmare that is the worst, but the moment of awakening. You think, “Did that really happen? What if it really happened?” and then you try not to carry that wrongness into the waking world. If you’re lucky it will fade. 

Most of us are living this way. We don’t know much until it is too late. We’re surrounded by those utterly committed to misery, for others as well as for themselves. They are too dangerous to live and too stupid to die. Their lives are a bad joke that they insist is funny.

So for you: Insist on wisdom. Where it is lacking, force it to grow. I hope that you are lucky enough to find a community of responsible adults to guide you through what for many of your elders was a never ending process of error: spasms of ego and shame, rage and entitlement, and profound failure to love oneself or others. It is their fault, but not entirely. Our present rests on a pile of corpses and is mortared with misery. If you are able, do not build any higher. Throw the toxic horrors on the burn pile. The piggish racism, that monstrous treason of sexism and masculinity, and the terminal boredom of conformity. Burn it. 

Find your responsible teachers. If you can’t, do your best to insist that the inadequate sleepers that surround you come to consciousness. Watch them rub their eyes. Watch them navigate the life that flows around them, and watch them paddle furiously. They must correct their course. They owe it to you, to the world and to themselves. Hold them there, in adulthood. Don’t let them off the hook. Insist: Their maturity is your birthright. It is their duty to see that you do not repeat their mistakes, or that if you do, it was not ignorance that caused you to do so. 

I did not awaken in a span of time that I find acceptable, and I did not find suitable instruction until rather late. This is primarily my fault. I have reasoning. I have a sense of things. Perhaps I am better suited to ignorance than others, and I am very lucky that the presences that taught me were wise and insistent. 

So, this: Do not live a nightmare. Do not live a dream. Whatever else is going on in what appears to be reality, know that you do have that tiny, fleeting power to be wise and kind. Though no one has told you that you have a responsibility to be good, you do have a responsibility to be good. To yourself, to the world. 

Be awake.

Drug Proles

I almost got a PhD. This statement is both pathetic, in that it is a statement about failure, and funny, because academic failure is funny in a self-deprecating and hopeless way.

The whole process was stupid and I’m certain that it took me being stupid to set the whole thing in motion. But it’s also kind of fucked up, inasmuch as it’s hard to imagine any faculty not knowing that the job market is terrible. Academic programs are vampiric, but instead of blood they drink enthusiasm. 

I crashed and burned, which was miserable, and now I won’t even be able to teach at a community college, which was my very modest aspiration. Ho hum. It’s rare that people get what they really want. If they’re lucky they’ll get what they’ll settle for. 

My chief academic interest was drugs. This was also my chief interest outside of school. I was naively trying to look at how power and exploitation in the illicit drug sector play out in the first decade of the second millenia, so I could write impenetrable articles for single digit audiences in ludicrously priced academic journals. 

I was certain that illicit drugs were a strategically important commodity, and I was also certain that they were a necessary part of  people’s ability to get up and go about their lives. Further, they were politically important, inasmuch as they provided a framework in which certain groups of people were grievously and violently fucked over and controlled. I remain confident that all of this is true. 

Therefore, I wanted to express my thinking on illicit drug markets, with some explanation as to why I think any of it works. It’s a Marxist argument, which I think is relevant, so don’t tune out and turn on Fox News or MSNBC just yet. 

There are some central tenets of Marx’ thought. In brief, the source of value, leading to profit via a number of mechanisms, is human labor, which transfers value from a living human being into a commodity, and every commodity, from cotton to machines, carries this value. 

I think that what is below is a simpler but longer explanation of how this works. 

John is a regular guy. He works at a paper mill. He has a beer after work. He’s tired of life and all he eats are cheese sandwiches. He has basic cable and that’s it. John’s neighbors live better than he does, but only by a hair. In fact, everyone’s eating cheese sandwiches and watching Simpsons reruns. The things that keep John alive for his next day of work all contain value deposited in them by people working in other places, and John’s labor contains this value, because John’s ability to show up at the paper mill is also a thing that gets made, by cheese and cable and beer. 

How does a capitalist make a profit in this scheme where the minutes, hours and years of a human life make up every single thing? If they raise prices they’ll run into problems in the long term. Another capitalist could undercut them, or they would all enter into a spiral of inflation where things become ever more expensive. And the paper baron still needs John. If John can’t afford the things he needs to survive he will either die or demand higher wages. Not having a market is a big problem for the paper baron, and an increase in wages is as well- he’ll either be forced to raise prices further or cut into his profits. 

So if he can’t turn a profit by buying low and selling high then he’ll have to turn elsewhere. He’ll look to the factory, and to John, who is constipated from cheese, has been drinking way more beer than he cares to admit, and can’t stop wondering how the Simpsons went so far downhill after season seven. 

He might be able to speed up his machine or use shittier pulp, but either thing will cause his machine to break down more quickly. 

The machine John works at is dead, or at least not alive. All the value that it contains is there already. It can’t absorb any more, and it can’t summon more into existence. And the paper from China, that costs less and occasionally has the finger of a human child in it, well, every other paper baron is getting it there too. He has to look elsewhere. 

That’s where John comes in. John’s workday is ten hours long, but the things he needs to stay alive and willing to drag his sorry ass through the motions only takes eight hours of other people’s work to produce. John works two hours more than all this crap that he gets out of bed for. John can work longer and harder and more efficiently, unlike the machine. John’s sad life, still comprised of cheese and beer and cable, produces more than it consumes. 

But there comes a time when John wants more out of life. He wants prestige television. He wants beer that comes in glass bottles instead of in Natural Ice Light. He wants cheddar on whole grain. He and the other people at that paper milldem and a dollar more an hour. It is a brutal labor struggle. Paper partisans club them at the gate, using the strikers’ own “Cheddar, Sam Adams and HBO” signs against them. The strike is victorious and the workers win their additional dollar an hour. 

The paper baron doesn’t give a shit about the quality of cheese or beer and he watches Amazon Prime which is for smart people. The extra dollar cuts down on the amount of value he realizes from their additional two hours of work. He begins docking them for bathroom breaks and he’s figured out a way to pressure them into working an additional ten minutes a day off the clock, but it’s not enough. He invests in a machine, the Backbreaker, to speed them up. After this he’s making a lot more paper, and there haven’t even been any industrial accidents, which, while adding some excitement to an otherwise boring day, cause ruinous stoppages. 

So, now the machine is making the plebes work faster, thereby creating more paper. The workers transfer the same amount of labor over a far greater amount of paper and since the paper baron is ahead of the curve with the Backbreaker he can charge the same amount for the greater volume of paper. 

But, he looks at this books and utters a regretful ‘Oh, shit’. His production costs have changed. While he’s making a greater amount of paper, each of them has a smaller proportion of labor and a greater amount of machinery. The amount of labor embodied in every piece of paper dwindles, and while the paper baron’s magnitude of profit increases, his rate of profit dwindles. 

Were this true across the board, and not only the paper barons but the beer and cheese and entertainment barons increased their use of machines, over the long term there will be an ever lower rate of profit across the entirety of the capitalist economy. 

But these titans of industry live in a big world. They’re not chained to the cheese-eating shores they were born on.  

They’ve got an entire world of commodities, labor and money to draw upon. While the back-breaker is the norm for paper production, there are other places in the world where paper plebes don’t consume nearly as much beer, cable and cheese. Paper production in these places doesn’t use a machine, and there’s a far more brutal police state in these places. By moving the money invested in domestic paper production he can restore his rate of profit and invest elsewhere, perhaps in industries with tremendous magnitudes of profit at a lower rate. These higher rate-of-profit investments, on the whole, equalize the lower-rate/higher magnitude endeavors with higher rate/lower magnitude sectors. Over the course of things, absent crisis or new sources of profit the rate of profit declines, theoretically to a point at which it can no longer be measured. 

Stated simply, there needs to be a regular injection of sweated labor into the capitalist economy, or it needs to fall apart for a while to erase that extra cheese dollar, or it needs to be stolen from outside of the formal system. 

The means by which the capitalist economy was born was through a looting and pillaging of the pre-capitalist world, extemporaneous with the enclosure of the commons in Western Europe and a brutal colonization of the rest of the world. All those people and places were removed from the systems of a prior age, landing in this one fully formed with a price tag affixed. 

We live in a time of incredible productivity, technological marvels, and brutal exploitation. Amazon workers watch Jeff Bezos make trips to the stars while they navigate the threat of homelessness and fuck up their kidneys because they’re not allowed to piss. Bezos’ amazing life is impossible without their awful ones. 

But if one assumes that the Marxian schema is correct, then miserable lives are necessary. Not only is Bezos no longer able to ride his giant cock into the sky, but the whole system threatens to grind to a halt in the face of the balance of sweated and dead labor shifting. 

This is where drugs come in. 

I first became interested in the economic importance of drugs when, much to my dismay, I realized how expensive they are. I sat, utterly trashed, and considered how it was that easily and cheaply produced commodities cost so much. 

This is a place where the dominant paradigm winds up arguing that the conception of the functioning of the economy, stated earlier, is correct, albeit without any realization that they’re doing so. 

Everyone is willing to say that drugs are expensive because they’re illegal. Okay. That doesn’t really get us anywhere. Drilling in deeper, the statement will inevitably be made that it’s because they cross international borders. This is getting us somewhere. And, they might add, they have to compensate for seizures of their commodities. 

This is closer to being interesting and insightful, but it’s committing a cardinal sin of neo-classical economics by focusing on pricing rather than production. 

The value composition of drugs is our eye through the keyhole. While every substance that is an illicit psychoactive drug has its own interesting route to market, a general and extremely simplified schema of, say, heroin goes like this: A small-holder produces poppy and harvests raw opium. It is sold to a wholesaler. Heroin is extracted. It passes through a number of national boundaries, some via bribery, some via a treacherous overland/oversea route. It winds up in the U.S. and then splits again, sold on to regional and then local distributors, and finally to the consumer. 

Due to its illegality, these commodities are indeed regularly seized or destroyed, and the workers transporting them subject to arrest and imprisonment. 

When we talk about the value composition of drug commodities, we need to consider the work processes involved in their production. As you might imagine, an Afghan opium producer is not a single grower but generally a network of family members. You can bet your ass that they’re not making a ton of money, and when we consider the fact that eradication efforts are part of the job they have to expend a great deal of labor for each unit of opium.. 

The product leaves their possession and gets processed, at which point it departs, crossing numerous national boundaries, guided by numerous tiers of couriers, until it arrives in the United States, at which point it will split further into local distribution networks. 

When we talk about the value composition of a commodity we are referring to the socially necessary labor time that is required to bring it to market. Thus, in the event of a drought, for example, an increase in agricultural prices doesn’t reflect the scarcity of a crop, but the increased amount of work required to produce it. 

For illicit drug commodities, patterns of policing influence value composition profoundly, as the amount of labor embodied in them is not merely the commodities passage through smuggling and distribution networks, but also the labor that is embodied in seized drugs.

There are other things to consider in offering this conception: The work relationships of the illicit drug trade are extremely unequal and exploitative, and it is absolutely the case that drug workers can get ripped off, cheated, and in some instances simply killed in lieu of being paid. As well, in instances in which drug workers are interdicted their payment is forfeit. 

There is another fairly arcane and maybe erroneous thought that I have in regard to this, that being that it may be the case that we could consider the criminal penalties that drug proles are subject to to be implicated in the value composition of these commodities.

Meanwhile, the value realized in the drug trade flows into the official ledgers of international finance with a wink of the eye on the part of the banking sector. 

I also think that this is born out by the phenomenon attendant in legal marijuana markets. Prices have dropped precipitously, and I think there is a strong argument to be made that this is less an outcome of changing market dynamics, and far more the case that it arises out of a steep decline in the necessary labor time involved in its production. 

All of this is to say that the illicit sectors of the economy are constantly pumping surplus value into and out of the flow of global capital at a profoundly steep rate of profit, and if the Marxian schema holds true then it is the case that this sector serves to buoy all of industry, holding the rate of profit up and making this entire nightmare appear more solvent, and less violent. 

So there you go. This is it. This is the only thing I figured out in three years of smoking joints and crying on my bedroom floor. Totally worth it. 

Bureaucracy and Psychedelia

I wonder what will become of psychedelia. After a lifetime’s banishment from the clinic the substances we care for, and often venerate, have returned to the framework of grant funding and legal sanction. I don’t think this is a thing to fight but I do think it’s a thing to think about.

I’m grateful. Seeing how these substances operate in the brain, however limited the experimental apparatus is, verifies the radical alterations that can come about by way of numbers and pictures. We can stare at the relics of gnostic experience and codify the realization that when everything else is gone, love remains.

Thus, the introduction of psilocybin to the regulated space of the clinic makes it at once more accessible and less mystical. In some senses the barriers to entry will be lifted.

It is possible, even likely, that patients in formal medical settings will have an experience dissimilar from those of the freaks and weirdos of drug nerd culture. They will receive a capsule or some other vehicle for a chemical many steps removed from the organism that provides the blueprint. Dosing will be reliable, no longer prey to the unpredictability of indole content summoned by a living thing. They will lie down. A social worker will sit there for hours. A med tech will likely check their blood pressure, not because of any dangerousness posed by the substance, but out of the danger posed by litigation.

One of the curious things about the new paradigm will be the erasure of the chemical baeocystin. Though it appears in far smaller concentrations than psilocybin in the mushroom, it moderates the experience, playing far up the fretboard over psilocybin’s heavy percussion.

I am reminded of a passage encountered in a biography of Maria Sabina, patron saint of psilocybin, martyred by Americans in their thirst for recognition: After her encounters with Anglos she no longer understood the language of the mushroom. It ceased speaking in her indigenous language and began speaking English. (One of the more interesting things about this is that in addition to Alvaro Estrada, R. Gordon Wasson, the man most responsible for the theft of her skill, participated in the writing of the book in which this statement is recorded).

There’s an ethical concern I have, or perhaps just an aesthetic consideration, and it relates to the comment above. We can’t pretend to know the nature and span of human interaction with the organisms that give rise to these medicines, but we can assume it is a long one. It is a very important and precious beckoning between two species. I don’t want humanity to have learned fungi’s most precious technology (this being their chemical language) and then cast them aside. But I might not need to worry about this.

For all the promise of psilocybin we can safely guarantee that it will be subject to rigorous gatekeeping. Medicine is suspicious of anything it prescribes that a person might enjoy. We still operate in a paradigm where cures can’t be pleasant and for many reasons the use of antidepressants will persist, promising flaccid penises and weight gain rather than a four hour experience of boundlessness.

And the ubiquitousness of SSRIs and SNRIs will pose a serious problem for the use of psilocybin in the clinic- they severely curtail the ability to experience the therapeutic benefits of and they’re profoundly difficult to withdraw from. Even for those who experience no relief from psychiatric medication the withdrawal can be miserable. It will be a double-bind: Withdraw and get more depressed to use a treatment that will hopefully make a person less depressed.

Anyone who follows what I have to say, and there aren’t many, will have been reminded ad nauseum, of the fact that I have been taking intranasal esketamine for over a year. It’s fine. It’s been helpful. But it has none of the pleasure or mystery of mushrooms, none of the interactivity. It is like watching a movie that can be terrible or beautiful depending on a number of factors.

I talk with the psychiatrists in the clinic about the changing paradigm. A doctor I don’t interact with frequently was administering last week. I asked her what she thought the future held for psychedelic therapy and she answered that she couldn’t imagine the hospital administrators that she was familiar with being alright with any treatment that required four hours of supervision. It’s cheaper to give people pills and it’s even cheaper not to see them at all. Insurance loves psychiatric medication. It qualifies as care (even if it doesn’t work) and costs very little to administer.

I wonder how this will play out. I can see a number of broad scenarios. The first of these is that psilocybin will be relegated to the same paradigm as ketamine: It will be ostensibly legal, but owing to a reluctance on the part of insurance providers to approve claims for its use it will become a boutique therapy for practices that charge desperate people exorbitant fees. Those who need it most won’t have access, and those who can afford it won’t be able to afford it after a single session. Thus, the grey and black market sale, trading and gifting of mushrooms will expand.

Another scenario, and I see this playing out in the few cities and states that have decriminalized the substance, is a proliferation of integration therapists who assist experiencers with aligning the lessons and feelings encountered in a psilocybin experience with their passage through ‘consensus reality’. (As stated in so many other pieces of writing, I hate this term. None of us have been given any say in the construction of reality.)

I understand and have sympathy for the people already delivering this service. Work is terrible, and some work is more terrible. Making your living untangling the mystery of a life-changing experience is far preferable to working at Starbucks. However, if this becomes the therapeutic paradigm for psychedelics, another gross dynamic emerges in which ranks of professionals (who can afford a formal education) will march into psychedelia with their guns aimed at individual practices and community settings.

In our society therapy is administered by credentialed practitioners, who are either psychologists or social workers (who take their modalities from psychology as a discipline). While there are exceptions, on the whole I find psychology to be a quackish scam oriented around confirming the pre-existing ideological positions of the researcher. Should we arrive at a time where our already existing cadre of professional helpers brand themselves as ‘psychedelic therapists’ we will arrive at another professionalization that pulls psilocybin the ‘quasi-commodity’ firmly into the accounting of formal, legible economics.

My own biases are written all over these concerns. While plenty of people derive benefits from therapy, I feel strongly that a right to housing, food and education would do a great deal more to mitigate suffering than a lifetime on a couch. To internalize the misery of the world through a repetitive framework of acceptance does nothing. It does less than nothing. It is harmful.

Despite my concerns regarding the emerging paradigm, I have to acknowledge that the regulation of psychedelics has always been inevitable and omnipresent. But we have to demarcate what regulation means. After so many hundreds of years of all-encompassing bureaucracy the citizens of planet earth expect that it entails licensure, litigation, criminal justice and the application of metrics at every point along the way.

In response to this, I reply (to myself) that a social regulation of psychoactive substances has always existed in the form of taboo, shunning, oral tradition and gossip. We are used to not thinking about this as a form of regulation. We are so used to being told what to do that we assume that humanity will devolve into a depraved and violent free-for-all in the absence of someone who will tell us ‘no’ and kill us if we don’t listen. Psychoactive substances have always had ‘rules’ to mark the boundaries of acceptable use.

While we may not get a choice, I would vastly prefer a well conceived and widely understood ‘social’ regulation of psychedelics on the part of users, producers and practitioners to the framed diplomas and requisite credit hours that will come into play with the introduction of these substances into formal medical practice.

For those who consider the mushroom to be sacred, it is worth considering that the religion of our era is Cartesian science, but as with so many faiths, we are lapsed Cartesians. We cheat all the time, calling on it when it’s useful and pushing it aside when it’s not. Many of us who are involved in psychedelia perform a sort of weird Catholicism in which we allow our hopes, dreams and fully formed ideas into this model. We love the neurological investigation of the mushroom experience just as much as we like to think about its spiritual significance. These modes of thought aren’t incompatible or mutually exclusive, though they are contradictory.

So we approach a hybrid moment in which medical practice, good time party drug and religious sacrament co-exist, and for now I think that’s about as good as it’s going to get.

The Lyndon Larouche Exhibit at Jurassic Park

I recall an event that occurred almost twenty years ago, in which Harry Cleaver, a notable figure in autonomist Marxism, called New York ‘the land of dinosaurs’. What he meant was that leftist currents that had died out years ago were still viable here. I don’t think anyone could foresee that the internet would provide a Jurassic Park for so many unfortunate ideologies.

I am used to Saturday travel taking me past two dinosaur exhibits. On the North side of the road there has been an ongoing gathering in support of the Trumpian flavor of right wing idiocy. On the South side is a peace and justice rally for most things vaguely to the left. The lefties have a better spot, being positioned next to a bagel store, which provides both bagels and a toilet. I don’t know where the Trumpists go to the bathroom. In each other’s mouths?

The evolution of this dynamic is unclear to me, but the peace and justice folks have been around longer. It is very likely the case that the Trump people showed up to hate them from across the street.

The number of people in attendance varies, and the Trump people seem to have run out of steam following his defeat in the 2020 election. I can blame them for a great many things, but a lack of desire to wave signs at a generally uninterested public isn’t one of them. Honestly, I miss them. It’s nice to have people to throw garbage at. The vehicle gets cleaner and, hopefully, they get just a tiny bit more demoralized and paranoid.

There was a new phenomenon on the road this week. A group of people were tabling outside of the post office and they had a number of confusing banners. One said ‘Crush the Green New Deal’, another said ‘Don’t Blame Russia and China’, and the most perplexing one advocated for the construction of new nuclear power plants. And then I saw, in the lower right hand corner of a banner, that they were associated with Lyndon Larouche. One of the more confusing things about this is that Lyndon Larouche is dead.

Someone being dead doesn’t necessarily mean that the politics they espouse die with them. People call themselves Marxists, Trotskyists, Maoists, Leninists… on and on and on. Christian is a thing, so let’s throw that in there too. Recently, in a profound error of reasoning, began engaging with the internet left again. It is shockingly and alarmingly stupid.

I was surprised at the number of people willing to assert that the number of people directly and indirectly killed under Stalinism has been grossly inflated by Western media and scholarship. If Stalin only killed half of the people attributed to him it doesn’t really change anything, except people will know with certainty that you are dangerous and should not be asked to take care of their pets when they go away for the weekend.

Initially I was just trolling, and then I realized that most of these people were impervious to mockery, which they might have trained for or they might just naturally be gifted with. Either way, lucky them. Even if the fantasy you live in involves eating white fish and making people dig their own graves, it still provides you with scaffolding for your internal world.

I see parallels between this and the Larouchians on the side of the road.

Lyndon Larouche was a fucking lunatic. And a predator. I accuse people of rank madness all the time so maybe it loses its impact, but really, I’m not crying wolf. With any cult leader it’s hard to separate out beliefs expressed that allow them to maintain power and beliefs expressed that were actual beliefs. If you’ve seen Wild, Wild Country his movement works along the same lines except without any promise of spiritual ascendance. Followers would turn over all of their money to the organization, be encouraged to engage in campaigns of harassment and direct violence against political opponents, and would undergo ‘therapy’ with Larouche intended to ‘destroy their egos’ (which always seems to be a theft- the cult leader holds onto the ego, no matter how shattered).

As well, there were always shadowy enemies waiting to kill Larouche, which provides a convenient way of creating a group identity. If the Queen of England (who is an international drug kingpin) is trying to have your leader assassinated then shit, you must be on to something.

This is not to say that assassinations of figures on the left weren’t occurring at the time, but rather that it’s relatively implausible that Henry Kissinger, Queen Elizabeth, the Communist Party USA and Nelson Rockefeller were the ones planning the assassination. Grand conspiracies are attractive to people who really want to believe something and don’t care if that thing is stupid.

The current iteration of the movement, operating mostly out of a political action committee, somehow survived the death of Larouche at the regrettably old age of 97, and has pulled hard right. They promulgate the common right wing conspiracies regarding election fraud in the 2020 election, as well as hewing to the line that Black Lives Matter and Antifa activists infiltrated and led the Capitol Riot on January 6, 2020. This is an odd place for an organization that began in the New Left of the 1960’s to end up, but then again, maybe not. They appear to mostly parasitize existing movements, drawing in the most deluded and sucking money out of them.

Their PAC is fascinating, and if you go to their website you can watch a woman who looks like Droopy Dog at an arraignment for possession of child pornography talk about pretty much the same shit that you can hear if you watch Tucker Carlson. But don’t click on their ‘contact’ link, because they download a file onto your computer. Fucking creeps.

Do I have a point to make? Perhaps it’s just that people are desperate for some kind of all-encompassing ideology that prescribes a concrete plan of action that will provide them with a path out of a present that is confusing and scary. Also, maybe it’s the case that people that are hateful are easily enlisted in histories that justify violence on a massive scale. Or, maybe it’s that people are dumb and they feel relieved when someone tells them what to do.

Whatever the case, dinosaurs roam the political landscape.

Fullmetal Class War

I am a forty year old man here to tell you all about the political economy of an animated television program primarily marketed to adolescents. But my adolescence hasn’t ended in any significant way, so I’m perfect for this.

Since I’m neither Japanese nor a good researcher, there won’t be any sweeping discussions of a genre. What I know is that anime is a super popular form of storytelling largely adopted from weekly serialized stories called manga. I’m under the impression that the labor process involved in the production of either is completely insane, which may or may not be relevant to the rest of this post.

As a casual viewer, I don’t have a ton of generalizations that I can make about the medium. In terms of unifying themes, I’ve noticed a tendency to dwell on perseverance in the face of adversity; the characteristics of ethical leadership; and, above all things, friendship.

The friendship bit is my favorite, and it takes a number of forms.

For one, it is concerned with people’s ability to change. Not infrequently, a villain will make a sharp turn after an encounter with a protagonist and will begin questioning the experiences and desires that have drawn them into conflict. A few episodes later, they’ll do something surprising and out of character and end up best buds with the good guys.

Friendship also hinges on a character’s ability to persevere in the face of defeat. Circumstances that should very well defeat them are endured not because of an iron will but out of an iron love. Intense and deeply felt platonic relationships push heroes through despair, and if that’s not relevant to people surviving on service industry wages then I don’t know what is.

It’s not often that I see overtly political critiques playing out in the art form, but maybe I’m not looking hard enough. The most notable exception is Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood. Here’s a neat article regarding the program’s treatment of imperialism.

It’s a great story that deserves a wicked synopsis. I don’t know if I can pull that off.

The story takes place in Amestris, an expansionist nation ruled by a military dictatorship. This has been how things roll in Amestris for a long time- there’s no notable agitation occurring against the military government by its citizens.

The primary technology in this society is alchemy, which can reorganize matter into different shapes and compositions. There is a hard limit on this technology: Equivalent exchange. A person cannot make something out of nothing. If you have a brick you can change what the brick looks like, but you can’t make two bricks of the same size out of a single brick.

Alchemy has a single, towering taboo: Attempting to bring a dead person back to life.

While this science (and the characters insist that it is science, although it is almost indisputably magical) has tremendous potential for improving human life, it is largely utilized by the military government to wage expansionist wars, with alchemists serving as proxy weapons of mass destruction.

The chief protagonists (though there is a massive ensemble cast) are Edward and Alphonse Elric who, in the wake of the death of their mother, break alchemy’s chief taboo, initiating a gnostic experience in which they encounter an entity that claims to be, among other things, God. Edward loses his right arm and left leg in this exchange, while Alphonse loses his physical body altogether, with Edward anchoring his brother’s soul to a suit of armor.

The brothers commit to retrieving their bodies and set off in search of a philosopher’s stone, an item that allows for the violation of alchemy’s fundamental principle, equivalent exchange.

As a sofa Marxist, this term grabbed my attention. Capital’s early chapters deal with the problem of the exchange of commodities as a way of interrogating value in a capitalist economy. Marx problematizes exchange, offered as a ‘get out of jail free’ card into the present. Buy low, sell high is still a thing that’s bandied about as a natural law, but Marx ripped it apart in the latter half of the 19th century. If commodities are exchanged at their value, where does profit arise from? Price increases would lead to an unending inflationary spiral, so it can’t be the case that manipulations of price (at least in the long-term) would yield profit, and in the end, no capitalist would invest a dime without a chance to profit.

In response to this problematization, Marx asserts that profit does not arise from exchange (in the last instance), but instead from the production process. If a laborer works longer than the time that is socially necessary for his/her reproduction as a living thing in their society, the excess constitutes an unpaid transference of value that is realized (again, as a general tendency) by the capitalist as profit. Commodities are laden with expended, dead labor.

Late in the narrative arc of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, the heroes discover a frightening fact: The science they employ to harness the energy of tectonic activity beneath their feet (again, Marx) is not as powerful as it should be. Something is drawing off a portion of this energy, and that something is the primary villain, a shadowy man who has no desires outside of realizing his own ultimate and final ambition. This figure occupies the role of the capitalist on the stage of value theory. He utilizes the exertions of others to increase his own power.

The philosopher’s stone that the protagonists seek speaks to the parallels even further. After a great deal of searching, Edward and Alphonse discover that philosopher’s stones can only be created out of living human beings, and their ability to amplify the power (and productivity) of alchemy requires that these people be condensed into a physical object.

This is roughly analogous to the role of machinery in value theory. In the Marxist paradigm, machines accrete value- they are assembled from materials that are ossified life energy of human beings, which is employed in the production process to amplify the productivity of living laborers. The philosopher’s stone is the steam engine in a steam-punk world.

There is surely more to say on these points, but it is worth redirecting to the ultimate victory of the protagonists: They beat the bad guys, which is wonderful, and they do it by banding together in a diverse and internationalist cadre of friends who have been manipulated, conquered, traumatized and disfigured by the machinations of a government that is, clandestinely, run by monster-qua-capitalist.

Ultimately this leads to a political and technical innovation in the wake of their victory: Down with equivalent exchange. Up with the friendship economy.

In the final episode Alphonse holds up his hand, showing ten human fingers, and states that they’re done with equivalent exchange. If someone gives you ten, you’re to give them back eleven, because they’re a part of you. The fundamental ethic of the training he and his brother received is finally realized: “One is all, all is one”.

So, yeah, you basically don’t have to watch the show now. I’ve explained literally every important thing, and probably ruined your ability to appreciate the sword fights and monsters. You’re welcome.

Reconciliation?

I have no idea how to credit this appropriately, but this is an apropos image, accessed at: http://www.atasite.org/2013/04/19/we-are-winning-dont-forget-short-works-by-jean-gabriel-periot/we-are-winning-a/

I don’t have many friends I get to see in person anymore. This is a post-vaccination statement. It doesn’t have anything to do with the specter of death posed by COVID.

I know a lot of people who were very afraid of contracting the virus, and for good reason. I was too, but only because it would turn me into a vector. I wouldn’t say I have a complete disregard for my own life, but more a shoulder shrugging fatalism. I’ve got ways I’d prefer to die and ways I wouldn’t and I’m aware that I really won’t get much choice in the end. It’s life that worries me. This isn’t an anti-vaccination thing. It’s just an expression of an ethos.

There are a few people who I saw consistently. I’m related to several of them. This doesn’t make them count any less. So, lucky for me, I had consistent hang-out time through a year of isolation.

One of my closer and more consistent people is a guy some years younger than me. When you come out of a subculture that doesn’t exist anymore you awaken to a social world that doesn’t make sense. It’s like a poorly fitted shirt. I wonder if people formerly in gangs or cults feel the same way.

So, this younger person and I have a similar point of origin. Same scene, years apart, same politics, years apart. We speak similarly. Our humour works, a sarcastic outrage expressing doom. So we hang around and talk about politics, ethics, and how fun it is to watch a right-winger get pulped in a UFC bout.

While our politics align, they arise in different eras. I was around for the emergence, brief ascendance and sad defeat of the anarchism of the ‘alter-globalization’ movement. That stuff was ancient history by the time he got involved.

It is my strong impression that in the present the Democratic Socialists of America serve as a net for an unending leftist diaspora. It’s a catch-all. There are other organizations, but this one is consistently present, engages in some concrete political work, and isn’t hostile to anti-capitalist or anti-authoritarian positions. I’m sure it has the same problems inherent to any political scene, this being an inability to develop a coherent strategy to force change.

I’m pretty sure we’re past the idea that we’ll get a revolutionary movement that defines a future utopia. I would, very sincerely, welcome such a thing, but after 25 years of utter and embarrassing failure I am of the opinion that organizations can only provide a framework to allow the insurrectionary impulses of the present to explode from. Razing a city accomplishes at least as much as getting a socialist elected to a city council seat. If anyone reading feels the need to argue this point, I’m more than happy to. In fact, I’ll be excited to be wrong.

This friend engaged in organizing with a DSA chapter for a time. It sounded worthwhile. They attempted tenant organizing, food distribution, the organization of a mutual aid network. All good things to do, whether they work or not. The downside of this is that organizations don’t have a sharp learning curve. Everybody bails. They get discouraged or have to pick up a second job or they have children, or… on and on. So the people who could troubleshoot or refine a strategy or tactic bail, leaving the more energetic and naive to figure things out.

So this was the conversation. There’s this sweet, enthusiastic and cluelessly optimistic guy who is embedded in the local chapter of DSA. I immediately feel the need to knock him down, if only in my own mind. I saw that I am embarrassed for him. He posts cringeworthy, hopeful stuff on the internet. He doesn’t have the experience to assess futility. He’s not been broken.

We shit-talked the shit out of this guy, and it was so satisfying. It was like a cigarette after a day of swearing off. But, like the simile in the preceding sentence, I felt bad at the end. It was like discursive political binge drinking and I felt hungover.

I looked at myself, measured against this guy. I’m a firm believer that if a person wants to be consistently right they should opt for pessimism. Hope feels dangerous. I’ve seen hope, and it gets people destroyed.

A person I know spent a fairly long time in prison for militant political action. When they summarized the thinking behind their activities, they said that they sincerely believed a slogan thrown about in the movements that spun around the 1999-2001 anti-ministerial protests: “We are winning.”

We weren’t.

So for a long time I’ve felt that optimism is embarrassing and that it can be catastrophically harmful. This has been born out in my own life.

If I measure the young man against myself I see some things. This person doesn’t know these lessons in failure and it frees him up to try and to act.

Not trying doesn’t present virtue. Trying does. Hopelessness does nothing to encourage effort, and the efforts of the hopeless are generally sad and occasionally horrible. For myself I’ve become exhausted by embarrassment. I would rather appear smart by abstaining than look foolish by pouring effort into a lost cause.

I remember feeling hopeful. It felt good until it didn’t and I looked back on the hard work and pepper spray of the past to realize that I might truly be a dumbass.

It is not the case that I think resignation is useless. You can do a lot with it. As I said, if you want to be wrong, be an optimist. Resignation provides a scalpel to cut away hope not born out by reality, but I think I stop there. I look at the tumors and decide that the patient is fucked. Send them home with some painkillers and access to prestige television.

The naivete of hope doesn’t even bother hunting for those tumors. They just summon more energy, energy that is ultimately finite, and keep trying.

I want there to be a place in the middle where my cynicism is balanced by refusal to give up. Perhaps we have this in the present.

More and more I believe in two political facts: That people are constantly resisting immiseration through strategies that look like dysfunction. People’s drug use, absenteeism, theft, slacking surly demeanors and abstention from the nuclear family- these are all forms of political struggle. Probably not consciously so, but they don’t need to be. Or maybe they do. When all the technologies of surveillance and bureaucratic measurement are focused on these problems it is obvious that they are categories of struggle. Perhaps it would be beneficial to frame them this way.

The second of these is a belief in the power of what I imagine the British would call ‘the mob’. Our most recent periods of struggle have been defined by massive protests that become unapologetically militant in their confrontations with the police, who, if done away with, would allow people to address their problems rather expediently, by way of appropriation. The redistribution of wealth only looks like stealing on the surface.

The threat of this form of struggle was apparent as I read the news this morning. People are rising up against the administrators of their misery in Colombia, and the state is bringing all of its capacity for cooptation and violence to bear on this movement. American diplomats are decrying ‘vandalism’ as desperate people are torn apart by bullets.

How do we balance cynicism and hope in this context? We need both, but the fulcrum requires a balance of millimeters.

Bashing Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

The following has been informed by Cognitive Behavioral Tsunami: Managerialism, Politics and the Corruptions of Science by Farhad Dalal. It’s a brutal takedown of this therapeutic modality.

I’ve been to lots of therapists in my life. Some have been good, some not so much. Ultimately, it’s just the done thing when you’re in emotional distress.

When I was a child I didn’t really understand what it meant to be involved in talk therapy. I didn’t have any experiential baseline to compare my own internal life to, and no one ever brought me up to speed on the idea that I was somehow abnormal. Nor did I have an understanding of the behavioral benchmarks that indicate abnormality. So I sat around with various adult professionals without understanding the goal of that sitting around.

In adulthood I’ve been more aware of the goal in these settings. There’s a problem and the goal is to make that problem less onerous. It hasn’t worked much of the time, but this might be me, or it might be the world.

Generally, the difficulty has been in the exclusion of material conditions from the discussion, and a failure to evaluate my ability to bring myself into line with the ideal resolution of the problems identified. A lot of it is grey, but moments stand out.

There’s a man from early adolescence who had age appropriate and interesting book recommendations. Awesome. A+.

Then there’s a person who insisted that I take psychiatric medications or she wouldn’t treat me. I left the session.

A therapist once grazed the surface of a larger issue: I needed to want something. But I didn’t want anything, except maybe to feel better.

An elderly therapist made me take the Briggs-Meyer personality test. No thanks.

Two years ago I was ruined. I was just flailing around, sinking. I was enrolled as a patient in an anxiety focused clinic with a sliding scale payment policy. I filled out an endless evaluation form and was then receiving therapy.

The person administering my sessions was a young woman who was a postdoctoral fellow in neuroscience, which is not a field of expertise that normally deals with human thoughts or feelings out in the world of subjective experience. They look at brains. This might or might not bear upon human suffering.

She explained the paradigm that we’d be working within, that being Mindfulness Based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (MBCBT). This isn’t something I knew much about. It was explained to me that MBCBT was a data-driven, research informed therapeutic model supported by the innovative thinking of a dickhead stepfather: Your thoughts impact your feelings and you’re in control of your thoughts. The process doesn’t waste time on past events- there’s no point. Nor is it concerned with material conditions. The right mindset is either impervious to, or perhaps able to overcome, almost any life circumstances.

There are obvious deficits in this understanding. Or, perhaps, deliberately harmful myths that are perpetuated.

A case study: A thirteen year old is beaten. What comes first in this event? I think it depends on the staging.

Let us say the beating is unexpected (which seems highly unlikely, but I guess we’re dealing with abstractions). What comes first?

A fist hurtles towards a face. Is the brain behind the face aware of what’s coming? I guess the fist could be coming towards the back of the head, but if it’s head-on, then yeah, the victim is aware.
So, if there’s an awareness, is that a thought or a feeling? I don’t know. In my experience there’s a moment of terror, which is definitely a feeling, coupled with a reflexive urge to avoid this theoretical fist, and I guess a thought, which might be “Oh fuck. Anthony is punching me in the face (again).”

I don’t know how to pull these things apart. I’m no thought scientist (and you don’t have to be to practice CBT) but experience tells me that there’s no parsing out chickens and eggs here. Human consciousness isn’t an assembly line.

In the straw man argument above, how would thinking inform the feeling? Maybe if one were able to alter the automatic thought from “Oh shit, a fist,” to “This is an opportunity to learn to endure pain,” the sufferer could have a more enriching experience, as long as they subdue their urge to get out of the way. Any anxiety one might have about such an event happening again is to be dealt with by recognizing that just because you got punched today it isn’t necessarily going to happen tomorrow.

This is the institutional model of therapy practiced in the modern psychotherapeutic context, and its prominence coincides with the rise of the nonprofit sector and the psychiatrization of society, against the backdrop of neoliberal austerity. This makes quite a bit of sense.

“Non-profit organization” is a misnomer. It is true that there are no shareholders in such an organization (instead there’s a board comprised of wealthy people and professional administrators), but they still operate according to the mandates of accumulation: The organization that can provide more services for less money receives funding, and the entire sector is based upon a low wage/high turnover business model. It’s an outsourcing of the management of human misery. Non-profit executives make six figure salaries while the grunts get $13 an hour and a consolation prize: They’re doing good work that helps people (which probably isn’t true).

Therefore, CBT is perfect for this sector. It is brief- instead of years of psychotherapy, CBT generally terminates after a given number of sessions. Also, it doesn’t require intensive training. In my brief experience in social work education, this is the only therapy we would be trained in, and the training wouldn’t be extensive.

And it’s ideologically convenient. As it is concerned with thoughts rather than material conditions or personal history the distress of the client is a personal failing rather than a systemic problem. Good news though: You can change your negative thoughts. And if you don’t, well, you’re two times a failure.

I’ve tried to imagine bringing this therapeutic approach to bear on someone in an abusive domestic arrangement with no familial assistance, and I immediately revert to the ‘getting punched in the face’ example. It doesn’t work. It doesn’t help. It’s actually profoundly harmful.

During my time receiving this therapy, before every single session, I used a Macbook to fill out a questionnaire of approximately 60 questions that pried into the myriad ways that I hadn’t measured up to being a functional person. After this endless reminder of my disappointment the therapist would sit me down and show me a graph charting my responses. Occasionally there would be a spike- progress! Most of the time it was a straight line.

I always left these sessions with worksheets. Yup. Fucking dittos about how to reframe life problems. Or I’d receive a recommendation for an app that would allow me to journal about my spontaneous negative thoughts. I didn’t know what to say. That app would be open all day, every day.

Perhaps most egregious was a focus on mindfulness. I’m not knocking the practice of meditation. But there is a profound disconnect between MBCBT and mindfulness, a breach that is healed by simply not talking about it. My baseline understanding of the various iterations of mindfulness meditation is that thoughts are inherently out of control. I recall a statement by Jon Kabat-Zinn (and I’m paraphrasing) that one can’t think their way out of depression, and I agree. But CBT, as a fundamental principle, asserts that thoughts can and should be controlled.

But whatever, branding is what matters when you’re obviously failing to help people and getting paid for it. I hope someday we awaken to a society that has made the “helping professions” obsolete, and proceeds to remove their taint from whatever world comes next.

H.P. Class War: Cthulhu on the Barricades

“Oh my God, terrifying vistas of reality and our position therein are being opened up to us all. This is the worst thing that’s happened to mankind and in the studio they’ve opted for a new dark age but your commentator has gone stark staring mad.” New Dark Age by Rudimentary Peni. 

Hangar Barcelona Mural
The class takes curious forms. Street art at Hangar Art Space in Barcelona. Accessed on barcelonanavigator.com.

It is fairly well-established that H.P. Lovecraft was a devout racist. The HBO adaptation of Matt Ruff’s novel Lovecraft Country, an inversion of a number of Lovecraftian tropes, set many fingers to typing about the blatant and unapologetic hatred, even terror, that he felt toward black people. Therefore, it’s pretty unimportant to repeat such a widely known and irrefutable fact. But, I don’t think it covers all the bases. 

There are other currents of hatred and fear throughout his work. Like many of his characters, Lovecraft’s internal world was plagued by sinister dreams that were animated by the fears of empires long gone. He was a man of state, but the wild kind, haunted by the possibility of a radically altered world.

For myself, I first read Lovecraft at twelve. Expecting kids to be deep readers seems overly ambitious, but maybe this just reflects the low expectations, shitty education and dumb adults that I was exposed to. In a time where we consider the things people post on Facebook to be statements of unadulterated fact I think I’ll forgive myself for being blind to the hatred and fear that animated Lovecraft’s writing. Or maybe it resonated because I was being trained in the very same hatreds. 

Much of his writing is (debatably) in the public domain, which has allowed numerous editions of his work to circulate, distinguished from one another only by cover art, and the book I picked up delivered in that regard. It was a splash page of terrifying figures rendered in shades of gray and red. Odd pieces of anatomy, strange doors and stairs and windows… I was catching on, slowly, to the fact that cool book jackets could disguise shitty books, but I went for it. A family day trip to Vermont was a perfect opportunity to refine a migraine by reading in a moving vehicle, and the relief of vomiting on the side of the road and then passing out wasn’t even a thing I really disliked. 

I dug in. The book was a collection of his more refined (and probably more financially viable) stories. There was none of his bad poetry or his shit about Kadath, just endless descents into madness by various doomed protagonists and awakenings of incomprehensible beings. 

It scared the fucking shit out of me. 

It was seductive. Underneath the mounting paranoia of the inevitably white and tweedy heroes (or something… they were rarely if ever heroic) there was a love of the mystery and a fascination with the exterior. The world I was growing up in was known. The earth was mapped, the sea would be too, and space was sterile. Things were gridded and I didn’t like it at all. The beings of Lovecraft’s pantheon were terrifying, but they came from somewhere else- another dimension of space. I felt something like hope when I read about these impending nightmares. 

Regardless, after reading The Dunwich Horror the treeline became a place where indescribable creatures with frightening appetites could be hiding. Since dogs hated these things I felt comforted by the obese lab that came along, and I didn’t fall asleep until late into the night. 

I got older. An encounter with a shoggoth would have been preferable to day to day life. I didn’t reflect on the politics of Lovecraft until much later. 

Around the age of twenty I was fortunate enough to read Marcus Rediker and Peter Linebaugh’s The Many Headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic. It was another book that revealed a hidden dimension, in this instance the junctures at which the people working under the various lashes of power to establish a global capitalist economy attempted to bust through the ‘strange geometries’ that so threatened the order of a Lovecraftian world. 

These people, their resistance to regimes of exploitation, and their dreams of something better circulated on ocean currents. In their lives and their deaths they were mutilated. Pirates and slaves sought freedom under threat of death. Women claimed rights so offensive that they were burned or drowned to banish them. Indigenous people fled, or hid on ships that would go pirate if only the crew would seize the captain’s blunderbuss. And ‘anabaptists’ preached the heresy of a kingdom of God on Earth, another assertion that was worthy of a violent and public end. 

In a classic fashion, the economy of the revolutionary Atlantic had brought together its own grave diggers. In their numerous manifestations they were tied as metaphor and as death sentence to the realm of monstrosity, and the hydra was the most common referent. The chief theorist of the monstrosity of the working class was Francis Bacon, who appropriated the myth of Hercules and his labor of defeating the creature, to illustrate the disciplinary project faced by the masters of the nascent global economy. 

With poetic flair he named the Hydra’s heads, each one representing a threat to order and reason: Indigenous people, steeped in tradition and landed knowledge, their relative wealth a lure to the miserable colonists; dispossessed commoners, with their own traditions of cooperation- the Irish, the African, and the travelling people; pirates were the third head- both those preying on the shipping lanes and those simmering aboard the Virginia Company ships, waiting to mutiny; the fourth terrible head was comprised of what Marx would call the ‘lumpenproletariat’- those who relied on petty crime to survive;head five, the scourge of nobles, was the assassin; ‘Amazons’, rebellious women, also required ‘putting down’- they led the bread riots that characterized the food crises of 17th century Europe, and could be witches as well, fit for burning and unfit for work; and finally, considered the most dangerous head of all, were the anabaptists, who threatened all order with talk of a ‘church from below’, where the paternal authority of protestantism would be overthrown by the urgings of the spirit. (p. 61-65)

The parallels between Lovecraft’s pantheon of Great Old Ones and Bacon’s use of the hydra as parable provide a glimpse into the mind of the reactionary, both in the 17th century and the 20th century. The people who represented a threat to the functioning of a very specific type of society take on monstrous dimensions: They are threatening, mysterious, and unpredictable. And they are everywhere.  

Lovecraft’s stories take place in numerous locales, though Arkham is his most notable setting. From there one can head on a number of directions. 

Out in the country, in the village of Dunwich (unsurprisingly the setting of The Dunwich Horror), you might encounter the Whatelys, specifically the ‘decadent’ Whatelys, the spawn of respectable farmers gone to rot. There, amid fallow fields, below stone tables upon which the otherwise invisible ‘Indians’ of Lovecraft’s world dance, Lavinia Whateley (who is, God forbid, an albino, physically disabled, and worst of all unattractive) gave birth to two children. Her father, ‘half-crazed’ but steeped in esoteric knowledge (you could call him an ‘organic intellectual’) presided over the births. 

The more precocious (debatably) of the two boys, possessed of “thick lips, large-pored, yellowish skin, coarse crinkly hair, and oddly elongated ears”, dared seek knowledge that he should be denied. After being refused access to a book, Wilbur breaks into a library seeking said book, and is justifiably mauled to death by a dog.

What’s the ‘horror’ that came to Dunwich? Ugly people? Different people? There are several of the Hydra’s heads reared up in this story: The self-taught scholar; the rebel woman whose womb produces strange and unpredictable children; the ‘Indian’; the child who seeks knowledge above his station. Lovecraft’s villains are the victims of the revolutionary Atlantic.

Lovecraft’s most famous story, The Call of Cthulu, follows a similar course: The narrator’s uncle, a professor of Semitic Languages at Brown, dies mysteriously after being jostled by a “nautical looking negro”. As the protagonist pours over his uncle’s papers he comes upon a bas relief of a fantastical creature. Sculpted after troubling dreams by the “neurotic” son of an “excellent family” (it is interesting that the heroes of these stories can’t even stand thinking about stuff that the  swarthy, deformed and wild minds of the minor villains think about all day), the young man seeks out the uncle and delivers the sculpture. 

Later, the hero reads of one Detective Legrasse, a policeman who raided (read “suppressed”) a purported Voodoo meeting who turned to the protagonist’s uncle for information about a similar statue. Among the learned men who assembled to examine it, one asserts that a ‘deliberately bloodthirsty and repulsive’ group of devil-worshipping “Esquimaux” possessed and worshipped a similar statue. Mind-blowing stuff. It really “disclosed an astonishing degree of cosmic imagination among such half-castes and pariahs as might be least expected to possess it”. 

Then there’s an interlude of a police massacre in which 47 religious celebrants are arrested and seven killed extrajudicially by police. But because the modern world is merciful, only two of the celebrants were sane enough to be hung. The rest were sent to institutions.

The story goes on in this fashion. There’s talk of “half-castes”, “mulattoes”, “waterfront scum”,  and “negroes” throughout. Again, Bacon is summoned. The indigenous people, religious heretics, and nautical proletarians are attempting to subvert the ordered world of academics, who keep history in the past where it belongs, and police, who shoot those people who have escaped relegation to the dustbin of history. The villains are villains because they want to turn the world upside down. Their diversity makes them dangerous- the terror of miscegenation in Lovecraft’s writing is paramount. People who challenge categorization are not just worthy of distrust, but of extermination altogether. 

Lovecraft is Francis Bacon for the early 20th Century. Less respected, perhaps, and certainly less well-connected, but dreaming the same nightmare: That all those hydra heads are out there. The dockworkers, the ignorant and pitiful rural working class, the people who have failed to adequately mix their atheism with their puritanism. The opus is teeming with a desire to hang on to the power relations of the contemporary age. 

The things that are worth mentioning in regard to Cthulu are that (I’m going to assume that Cthulhu is gender-fluid and not human) it is a chimera. Cthulhu is an assemblage of animals thrown together. Cthulhu’s incomprehensible nature, the terror it inspires, the shocking thing about Cthulhu, is its size and the diversity of its elements. The second thing is that Cthulhu doesn’t die. It may be inactive for spans of time, sleeping, dreaming, but eternal. 

For Bacon such monsters are a call to action. Exterminate them or break them. It was a new day for an ascendant class and hacking heads off was just another hero’s labor, not to be shirked or shied away from. 

For Lovecraft it’s a form of paralysis. There are monsters everywhere. Fail to know them adequately and you’ll miss the moment that you’re held in their mouth; know too much about them and you might turn into one. Past and future are terrifying, as is the present, always teetering towards one or the other. It’s only the random violence of policemen’s guns that can clean up the mess.

In both men’s summoning of the monstrous, it was the blasphemous coming together of social forces that was the key threat to the societies that they envisioned as just and correct. It was, and is, the working class in all its manifestations that should be feared and, ultimately, killed. But the cosmic horror that both men face is that you can’t kill the monster. The story doesn’t work without it. 

So for the specter of class war. There are so many of us. We are so different. Our cults exist in far flung places. Our icons and our statues get torn down or buried in museums, but we dream beneath the waves, waiting for the stars to align, to once again sow terror among respectable men of state. 

How Can I Make My Suicide a Puzzling Event? Ask Marcum!

Marcum LLP TV Ads 2019 - Mark - 15s - YouTube

Today I got up earlier than I usually do. I had an appointment for an evaluation for disability benefits with a psychiatrist in the employ of an organization with the improbable and mildly horrifying name of Industrial Medical Associates. Every time I hear it I think of myself being moved along on a conveyor belt, transformed into a male chick in a hatchery, destined for the dumpster. 

This is an organization that apparently has a monopoly on these evaluations. I’m sure it’s lucrative. Like everything else it seems to run on contract labor. People with credentials are hired in on a part-time basis to affix an altogether different set of credentials on the downwardly mobile. Managing poverty and distress is it’s own industry.

I drink too much coffee. My nights aren’t very restful. The sedating effects of medication wear off after a few hours and then I stumble around talking nonsense. The last couple hours of sleep are for dreaming about my sister kicking me out of her house or women that I’ve loved examining the circumstances of my life and expressing disappointment. 

There was a gap between awakening and my eval. My mother is a dedicated viewer of MSNBC, which is pretty much the Fox News of the well-intentioned. While I’d take the former over the latter most days, I still find it pretty stupid. Their unfortunately named ‘Morning Joe’ program runs until 9:00 am. Host Joe Scarborough has weird beady eyes and the face of a frat boy with progeria. His co-host (and spouse) Mika Brzinski reeks of self-satisfaction. She looks well-bred, a mixture of genetics and plastic surgery that will likely be replaced with the blood of prepubescent children when it finally comes to market. 

It seems like everyone on this show publishes a book. It’s not like they need to (or should). They’re certainly all wealthy and also that kind of middle-of-the-road stupid that allows a person to be highly functional. Generally they write biographies of people who the world absolutely does not need another biography about. For instance Scarborough himself wrote a book with the pants-shittingly stupid title Saving Freedom: Truman, the Cold War, and the Fight for Western Civilization. Truman unleashed a nightmare on the world; the Cold War was the partial realization of that nightmare and Western Civilization is the worst thing that ever happened to humanity.

This morning’s boastful presentation of such a product was an accounting of the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnston. The general sentiment was that he was an awesome bipartisan president and a strict adherent of the Constitution. 

This might be the case. But still: Fuck off. Who cares? It’s just this kind of celebration of polite killers that makes this network so execrable. This guy persecuted an imperialist war that sent American boys on a murderous rite of passage and turned them into the gray, miserable baby boomers that drive around with Trump flags flying behind their trucks as though they’re ISIS without a destination. 

There’s also the kind of moralistic eye-rolling exasperation that typifies blue-dog democrats in the Trump era. They care less about the violence that the state doles out than a lack of consensus about how the violence should be managed, as though they’d prefer a more competent fascist. Politicians that are less disgusting and have the good graces to lie eloquently about the horrors that are visited on people are preferred. Maybe it helps them sleep at night. An ambien and some self-satisfaction allows them a restful night so they can rise in the morning, staple their jowls to the back of their necks, and get on with the business of being famous. 

It’s not that I don’t hate Donald Trump. Nor is it the case that I prefer him to Joe Biden. I just acknowledge that they merely represent different strategies for managing capitalism. One’s way better at white-washing the misery they inflict and promising deliverance from it at some point in the distant future. The other provides a satisfying hit of rage to dummies. 

Between the relatively brief expressions of impassioned pablum are commercials, which I think speak much more to the state of the world than the news program itself. You can usually figure out which demographics can be expected to be watching based upon the stuff being advertised. Sometimes demographics collide and you get a weird mixture. I gather that the expectation is that competent people leave their houses earlier, so these time-slots are loaded up with various ways to protect and manage wealth.

Today there was one of those ‘Ask Marcum’ commercials. There are two audiences they pitch to. Both suck. The first is someone on deck at the point of production. It’s either a guy in a factory, one that has been mysteriously emptied of the brown women who predominate in such environments, or a guy on a construction site. No people in gloves or PPE. No grime on the floors. No one tumbling from a high place to the floor. A person who is apparently the grand-master of this grand, sterile enterprise discusses with a man in a suit and a hardhat the challenges of managing such a large operation. They reply: “Ask Marcum”. 

There’s another (and I might be wrong about the company… does it even matter?) in which a daughter discusses the hard work and dedication her father has expended in building his vineyards into a massive agricultural operation. He’s got a flannel shirt on- a total man’s man. If he has a profile on the ‘over 50’ dating website (also advertised at this time of day) ‘Our Time’ then the women are literally beating down the door for a viagra fueled romp. Again, his vineyard appears to run without any labor. It’s just him and his kids. Nobody’s stooped over in blistering heat. No one’s pissing in a jug because they can’t access a bathroom. How could he possibly manage the money flowing through this wine-making goose that lays golden eggs? Ask fucking Marcum. 

Or a woman sits in a massive corner office overlooking a metropolis. She’s puzzling out some pressing business problems, clearly. It’s late at night. Fuck the kids. Consuela will deal with them. We’re in the world of finance capital, where the algorithms work hard buying whale oil and selling rhino horn. How to justify the existence of a human being in this system?. Would you be better off smashing the glass and jumping? Ask Marcum. 

In another there are two women at a posh restaurant. We know it’s posh because there are no waiters. The restaurant industry has figured out how to make service staff invisible. You can pretend your loser brother’s ghost is bringing wine to your table- he’s only been dead a few years. Business Woman A says to Business Woman B how concerned she is about an IRS audit. I guess the subtext is that she’s committed financial crimes? Or improprieties. Titans of industry don’t commit crimes. She wonders how she can justify withholding the relative nothing that her business contributes to society. If the world ran on paper she could just set the building on fire, but computer files stick around. Her companion drains her glass and responds: Ask Marcum. 

My personal favorite is a meeting room full of suited and ambitious professionals dialing someone in for a conference call. They’ve got business to discuss. A quick roll-call and then the most improbable thing occurs! Marc, the delivery boy, is in the room. He fucks around on his phone, unconcerned with business stuff. What a wacky thing! How’d he get in here! Don’t ask Marc! He’s just going to ride around the financial district on a scooter giving you assholes sandwiches until he gets hit by a car and then spends the rest of his pathetic life in a wheelchair. Ask Marcum! 

Anyway, after any one of these brilliant pieces of advertising, created by very smart people who deserve good things out of life finishes, we pivot to another corner of capitalist society. 

A recruiting commercial for GrubHub features a young African American woman. She expresses the absolute freedom and self respect afforded to her by this part-time job that’s allowed her to raise her children and her self-esteem. She loves bringing trash food to garbage people. She is not bothered at all that the odometer on her car is spinning wildly into the future, a future where it breaks and Grub Hub finds another desperate sucker to trash both their transportation and livelihood for less than minimum wage. Marc used to work there, but what with turning invisible someone ran him over. 

After this things can break in a few directions. GrubHub recruitment marks the turning point where professionals are out the door and on their way to a morning of digging at hemorrhoids and wondering what life would be like if they killed their families. It’s after 8:30 and that means the unemployed, the retired and the disabled are the only ones left to watch. By this point Joe and Mika both have to piss and Mike Barnagle is getting worried about diaper rash. 

Commercials from this point onwards are concerned with illness, litigation and insurance. There are those ‘push’ marketing ads for medications, all of which somehow result in people paddle boarding. They’re all for the treatment of poor people stuff: Diabetes. COPD. Schizophrenia, etc. 

The schizophrenia one is my favorite. The mystical commercial voice, so caring and wise, tells us that little accomplishments are a big deal when you’re living with a psychotic disorder. A man plays the guitar. Alright, that’s pretty cool. A man makes a peanut butter sandwich. What the fuck? This is the best that you can get? A food that kids with bad parents make for themselves before going to school?  Then they get to the downsides, as if living on peanut butter and white bread wasn’t bad enough, they explain that you might gain a hundred pounds (and peanut butter pounds no less), experience unintentional repetitive movements, have suicidal thoughts (again, suicidal peanut butter thoughts), and possibly death from neuroleptic malignant syndrome. Don’t let the risk of death steer you into periods of homelessness. Your shattered life will never be the same, but at least you’ve got your own jar of Jiff at the group home. 

These commercials for drugs, all of which will cause everything from piles to bleeding eyes, are followed by commercials for litigation services against the very same pharmaceutical companies that promise paddle boarding and peanut butter. It’s enticing, to sit on the couch with nary a paddle board in site, and think about the oodles of money that your broke ass could get if only you had a life-ruining side effect from one of the ten medications you’re on, but alas, these medications disappoint even in that regard. You’re still mostly intact, you’re out of peanut butter, and you can’t afford to buy a vehicle to work at GrubHub so that you can finally access that shame-reducing invisibility you were looking forward to.

My disability examination  tore me away from television anthropology. I explained to some geographically remote person who is apparently a doctor that the last time I was arrested was in 2010, which is pretty good for me. She asked if I had ever been manic and I asked her if manic just means ‘not depressed’. She asked about drug use and I lied my ass off. It’s challenging to explain to a psychiatrist how fucking awesome DMT is. Once upon a time I was on a psych ward (in a professional capacity) and heard a young man explain to a social worker how smoking DMT had allowed him to say goodbye to his grandmother, which is a far better therapeutic outcome than he was getting from the shit they were making him take. She lied (or fabricated a truth that validated a prejudice, which is lying for stupid people) and said it caused brain damage. So does riding a scooter for  GrubHub and getting hit by a car but they don’t tell the incipient homeless person that kind of thing.