Nepantlero

7 06 2010

Zen and el Arte de Nepantlarissmo:

La Metodología Espiritual de Gloria Anzaldúa

The wind befriended you yesterday, when it stopped you in the street and asked if you knew its true name. “Wind,” you whispered, like you had never uttered the word before, more an expression of awe than a response. In that instant Wind consumed you, moved through you, danced around you, and all awareness rested in Wind.

There is something fundamental to you that exists before (and after) mind, before the thinking of identity-story spins itself into being and takes occupation of your body. You have sensed it on the periphery of experience for a long time; sensed it in the moments in between, that ever-present allowing more intimate than any thing, the space where joy and sorrow come and dance and leave again. Este Conocimiento. “Beneath your desire for knowledge writhes the hunger to understand and love yourself.”

You attend with fierce resolve to this hunger, at times hurling the conditioned mind into the ether with reckless abandon, come what may. (Was it really you who dislodged the mind or Grace, you wonder?) In these moments where the ground of familiarity breaks beneath you and the terror of unbecoming swallows you whole you find yourself suddenly alive, awake on the other side, a free agent. As you learn to traverse the bridge between this world and the other, you find a new movement dancing inside you- not new, perhaps, so much as seen for the first time. The bounds between chooser and choice bypass the discursive mind, blend together, and you are on this side and the other all at once. A familiar impulse arises and the thought comes, “I should document this.” You watch it float by like a distant cloud in the sky of being. Then it disappears and you find yourself once again in nepantla, the in-between space of no becoming, of not yet becoming.

A sense of power, finally divested of the personal, radiates with aliveness- it saturates your bones and muscles. It isn’t the familiar stolen power you looked at from the precipice of no-power, fury coursing through you fire pouring from you mouth, from your fingers, heart erupting in pain and outrage. No- this is a power before all that, yours from the very beginning, which you could only know by surrendering all you know. The sense that the world is available to you, uncreated, and infinitely vast hums around you like an old forgotten song drifting into you from every direction. Suddenly you notice- movement; the unmanifest substance of nepantla twirls you headlong into the world: a phone call from a former lover; the distance that seems to separate; an ache, like sickness digging into your chest faster than you can track. Fear and longing lace your words without your control and you watch with a detached distance at the horrifying unskillfulness of your words-is this really happening?- your heart screaming to be known. You lament the tenuousness of that peace and awareness you knew yourself to be in nepantla. In your periphery, you catch sight of the tiny you trying to control it all, small and blind, limbs and beliefs flailing around in an effort to create a safe story for itself. You see it in its totality and see how central it has been to your interactions with the world; with your lover. Compassion arises mysteriously, slowly making its way back into your body. The line on the other end is silent for a moment and you take the opportunity to jump back into nepantla, defocalizing your mind’s rule. Anything is better than this, you think. With fresh eyes, you see the tumult and the chaos as part of it, part of the whole. It’s present after all, and the mechanism of that familiar you with all of its fear, all of its insufficiencies, mistakes, and personal admonishments, reveals itself to be a fiction. You see it. You returned to nepantla- the place of not knowing- not so much for solace, but for truth. This consideration loosens your grip and you feel the muscles in your stomach unclench, the place where you held back the terror slowly surrenders itself. You let go into the tumult of the unknown and find yourself surprised when peace presents itself there.

You see the great responsibility before you in nepantla, not a personal mandate you possess, but a burgeoning awakeness to the mighty fullness of life. There is nothing you can turn away from here. It does not make you safe from death or pain, but more sensitive, more vulnerable, more open to anything and everything that might arise. Your life no longer belongs to the destiny you had in store for it. You are no longer special or unique or entitled or exempt. You are unmistakably, undeniably, irrevocably present and the magnitude of this presence recognizes you with a sight as terrible and welcoming as only the Divine could be. A shiver of fear sneaks into your subconscious: who am I without my story self? The thought passes with the Wind of nepantla and you sink deeper in, every piece of viscera alive to the movement of the unknown. You make a prayer- you’ve never prayed before- without any words. You offer it, you offer the rest of yourself, whatever it is, to the wisdom of nepantla. You get a response almost immediately: this is just the beginning.





Introducing: “Decolonizing the Mind”

28 05 2010

Decolonizing the Mind is a new undertaking, in part inspired by my study with Cherríe Moraga and my senior thesis “Whiteness: The Body and Pathology of American Loss,” which looks at the construction of whiteness as a racialized American identity as a method of ensuring the continuation of dominant culture by subjugating humanity within the white body.

The new site is under construction at decolonizingthemind.wordpress.com but a dedicated url is forthcoming. As of now, the plan is to compile a body of work for publish in 2010. Please visit the new page, share it with friends, and consider submitting some of your work for publication.

Most of my writings will now appear on that site and the Crunk Bunny will continued to be used for whatever’s left over.

Feel free to shoot your thoughts my way after perusing the page.





Cultural Loss: White People at Powwow

11 05 2010

In the process of retracing one’s history, the intimately personal as well as the broad cultural history of one’s own people, we move through many stages of experience; from awe and phenomenal grief, to acceptance and gratitude, to fear and simmering rage, everything in between, sometimes many at once, sometimes all of them in a day. Anzaldúa speaks potently of these movements, sometimes related to loss of cultural self, sometimes to the little deaths of the personal self that knock at our door each day and invite a deeper knowing.

In this moment, though I’m just tired. Not in the exasperated, “I don’t want to deal with it anymore” sense we mean when we say, “I’m just tired,” since that wouldn’t account for my fierce desire to know what’s real. I mean tired in the way where your body aches a little though not anywhere in specific and a damp sadness seems to saturate your skin, though you haven’t been out in the rain. It pervades your being. I guess you could call it existential, but even that seems too rational a description of the subtle fatigue that creeps. I also just came back from a three days of a truly awesome powwow, spent with some of my best friends who I haven’t seen in quite some time, so the prospect of sitting down to write about loss feels like a buzz kill.

And yet, maybe the heels of powwow is the perfect time to talk about loss. Inevitably, Stanford Powwow (in particular, since it’s in the middle of Palo Alto) attracts a wide audience of natives and non-natives. Some are at the beginning of their seasonal powwow trail that will last for months into the summer, an annual ritual of dancing, singing, and contesting at each venue before heading out to the next venue with your family. For others, this is their very first powwow, having come at the invitation of a friend or seen a bumper sticker on their drive down el camino, intrigued by the word and its many “Ws.”

I spent most of the weekend walking around with Marlon whose astute sense of “between the lines” people-watching makes for great conversation. Early on Saturday, he commented on a white lady’s outfit- a sarape and blue skirt with suspicious leather sandals- and asked “do you think coming to a powwow makes people conform their dress to what they think looks native?” (Marlon was wearing slacks, a nice grey (designer) sweater, a matching Coach scarf, brown designer shoes, and black Prada sunglasses; most of the host-drum singers sit in hoodies or powwow tee shirts with back-turned caps on). We looked around us and quickly took note of the (presumably, because you can’t really tell for sure) non-native people and sure enough, there was a decidedly composed indigenous feel to most of their dress. We spent the remaining two days counting examples: “one, sarape,” “seventeen, Uggs and beaded earrings,” “forty-five, walking stick wrapped in tan leather-lace,” “sixty-six, eagle feather he probably shouldn’t have and a stuffed bobcat slung across his back” and so on. The white people are always indicative of the general quality of white peoples’ relationship to natives in the United States, like little thermometers that tell you the many temperatures of how dominant culture relates to Indian country. Sitting with Steph Tsosie at powwow two years ago, I remember a white guy coming up to us and asking if there was a list of all the tribes at powwow. All of them? Like, in their totality? Another white guy came up to the front tent and said, “I heard there were a bunch of important chiefs here. Do you know where I can find them? I saw one guy wearing some feathers on his head- I think he’s one of them- but I wondered if you knew where the rest were.” Sorry, buddy. They just valiantly rode off into the horizon and you missed them. Better luck next year. Early Saturday morning, five white girls from Paly High across the street came dressed in war paint, mini skirts, and moccasins, like they were attending a Pocahontas convention.

The assumptions of spectacle that white people bring to “cultural” events like powwow is, to choose a diplomatic word, instructive. On the one hand (the most important hand), powwow isn’t in the least concerned with white people and what they think. On the one hand, powwow is useful to highlight the vibrancy of Native Americans culture(s), their persistence even in the face of a mainstream society that sees them as (dead and) historical. On the (other) other hand, the incredible sense of voyeurism and consumption that white people bring to powwow is mind blowing. After the jingle dress special today, I was standing next to my friend Lauren (who was still wearing her dress), chatting about the contest, and over the course of ten minutes or so several (white) people stood off about ten feet, pointing and focusing their cameras, taking pictures, moving around her to try and get a better angle. Some had the courtesy to ask, but most didn’t. Some carefully placed their child in the frame- still avoiding actual contact with the Indian object (Lauren)- and told them to smile. Lauren and I stared at the ground as we continued our conversation and tried to position our bodies away from the camera.

You can tell it’s important to these people that they get the right photo, to document that they saw a real Indian before they fade back into the obscurity of their Media-mediated imaginations, or actually die off altogether, like a Lion they see on Safari whose tenuous existence is only protected by the institution that “compassionately” houses them.

More than a little uncomfortable, she turned to me and asked, “Do your people think this is a zoo?”

I wrote earlier that voyeurism is the ignorance of colonial consciousness writ large. It denies what’s true- that we are present- but you can tell in most white people’s composure that they see themselves and function as distant observers, not participants. They show up, get the experience, catalogue it, chronicle it, then slide back into the comfortable soma haze of their lives until the urge for commodified sustenance takes hold of them again. I use the word “commodified,” because the way they relate to the world- and especially identifiably “cultural” experiences- suggests they see a petite package of experience they can ingest in order to make them more…“something.” The something is undefined, but the frenzy of it all, the excitement of witnessing the ethnic other in their native habitat, is so indicative of their relationship to reality: they see themselves as outside of it, separate from it. Powwow isn’t the only place this happens, obviously, but it’s one of the most blatant and egregious.

Lauren asks me why. Why do white people do this? The only thing Indians show up to powwow to consume is fry bread and coffee, she says. Consumption as a task is marginal to the primary task of singing and dancing and sharing a good time with your family, maybe you place in a contest if you dance/sing well. But white people show up because they think they’re going to get something, something authentic (whatever that is), something genuinely cultural, since their own sense of culture is so irreparably depleted and they desperately long to fill the void. “We don’t have a culture, so we’ll just come and watch yours and we’ll feel culturally sophisticated while we maybe buy some bead work, then we’ll go back to our culture-free world where we live and…well, God knows where you’ll go. Do they even have reservations anymore?” seems to be the underlying narrative. You can see it in their innocent quixotic eyes.

This is such an old, old story.

And it makes me tired. Today, I gave myself the privileged indulgence of just wanting to hang out with my friends without the constant violations of white peoples’ eyes and cameras and thoughts. I didn’t even care that I was white and hanging out with my native crew as I might have years ago; just so long as these white people weren’t so violently entitled in their voyeurism and exotification. It was a moment of weakness on my part, but I was tired. Mar could tell so he joked and told me to keep my relatives in line.

You can get to a place in your vision of the world where everything white people do (almost everything) is an attempt to recover their lost cultural selves. I don’t sense the pull in my own heart as much as I used to; that pull to belong because you know where you came from that white people lack. The truth is I don’t belong and now that I know why, I don’t have to try any more. It’s not a resignation so much as a realization. In a way, this gives way to a deeper sense of belonging, one not rooted in the endless search for contrived validations that never fully satisfy. The (invisible) culture white people have set up for themselves is premised on the notion of who does and does not belong. I partly wonder if it isn’t an unconscious response to that suppressed experience of invaders; we know we don’t belong so we’ll make it seem like you don’t belong in order to make ourselves more comfortable in our continued violations. Then, in your marginalization and distance from us, we’ll observe you to remind ourselves of what we’ve given up while we pretend that we have it all and that you’re worse off. This is the irony of their own incidental self-othering, and the violence of it in all directions.

And it’s tiring sometimes. I don’t mean that in a quaint way. It’s not quaint. But from this place, it’s rare you meet a white person who isn’t saddled with the unconscious grief of loss, and it’s tiring to bear witness to it constantly, now that I know what I’m actually seeing. I used to think I was just seeing patriarchical assholes whenever a rich white guy condescendingly flaunted his affluence or paternalized his wife in plain view, but now I know I’m seeing unfathomable loss and its pathology beneath the facade. It may not be apparent at first, but it never takes long to reveal itself in their speech, in their posture, in their gaze. Now it’s a sense that just registers in my body before thought. Marlon calls it “picking up faxes.”

Sometimes it’s easy to have compassion for the white experience of loss, usually when it’s acute and you see them searching for an answer they’ve hidden away from themselves- it was my experience for so long (and still is sometimes)- but in those moments when the mechanism of the colonial mind is running the show, the mind that sees everything as available for consumption, sympathy is more difficult to muster. Not when my loved ones become the object of the white void’s hunger. Not when instead of seeing a whole and complete human being, they see an image in their mind of the docile domestic native performing a nostalgic ritual dance that they can capture on digital film. At the very least, it hurts my friends’ feelings (and mine). And it utterly fails to acknowledge the fact that she just danced her ass off for 30 minutes and looked damn good. It fails to acknowledge all the hours of work that went into making her dress, all the hands and hearts that were involved, all the hours practicing her side step, all her life.

A (white) woman walks up and asks, “Is your tribe here?” Lauren just furrows her face in confusion. Like, all of them? What kind of person would ask such a ridiculous question? Someone unbelievably lost.

Today I wanted to enjoy powwow with my friends; friends who are dear to me. And I did. Tanaya came in from Boulder, Mar came down from the city and stayed the whole weekend, and Lauren was there to dance and help her dad out with security. We laughed all day, Mar gossiped enough for all of us, and the weather was almost perfect. I spent more time watching the contesting than in previous years, because the dancers were so exceptional, especially the jingle dress dancers and the fancy shall dancers. All the singers were on point too, especially the host northern drum, Swift Cloud. So, I let myself play for once in a long time, in this little time out of “real” life when powwow is all that exists and my best friends are all with me and it’s really beautiful. And there’s a lot of love. And there’s a lot of loss too. I’m sure more could be said, more eloquently, but there it is.





Journal- Wednesday, April 14th

9 04 2010

Wednesday, April 14th

I don’t always have time to eat breakfast before I leave for school, since I live off campus, so I often eat after my stats lecture. There’s a café near the Hewlitt building called Bites and they make pretty tasty breakfast burritos so I headed over after class this morning to get some food. My mom had sent me a text message earlier in the morning about an Angelique Kidjo concert she attended the previous night with her boyfriend and, sure enough, Angelique Kidjo was playing over the speakers in Bites when I walked in. I like synchronicities like that so I texted my mom to tell her. By the time I got to the register to order, Vusi Mahlasela was on and I commented to the cashier, a white lady, that I liked the music they were playing. She responded, “Yeah, I love African music.” I didn’t say anything in response- it’s not the worst thing someone could say, after all.

She continued to tell me that it was a Putumayo Acoustic Africa compilation- some of which I myself own- and I got to thinking about multiculturalism and panculturalism and how problematic it can be to present cultural aesthetic forms as representational of continents, countries, people, heritage etc. I think this is especially true in the late capital world where nearly everything is commodified and presented in the form of consumables. One purchases something like a Putumayo compilation and one is immediately granted (presumed) access to the culture from which it came. One of the problems is in marketed representation. Vusi Mahlasela is a celebrated artist in South Africa, sings mostly in his native language of Sotho, and was inspired primarily by resistance to the Apartheid system of South Africa, but ALL of that is potentially lost when he becomes an African musician. The West’s fetish-like fascination with the African subject is made clear here in the voyeurism of postmodernism. We like to observe “others” from a comfortable distance, especially in the comfortable artistic distance, because art, after all is just entertainment and therefore exempt from political location. Again, often these arguments are dismissed on the expectation that art either transcends race and imperialism or that artistic exchange is somehow productive to understanding. Of course “understanding” is totally subverted when the exchange is facilitated by capitalism, which has an agenda of its own having nothing to do with exchange or understanding. So one must develop a critical understanding of these so-called neutral exchanges of culture and commodity, because often our enjoyment and appreciation of the art form is accompanied by a latent imperial impulse that is left out of the equation.





Introduction to Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity

9 04 2010

So, I’m totally that guy. The guy who left an introductory core course for his major till the spring quarter of his senior year. It may be that the gods will have mercy and I’ll be fast-tracked out, but until that time, I figure I would post the interesting part of the course- weekly journal entries about race- for your enjoyment. Since their brief and uncomplicated, I’m sure they’ll prompt all kinds of thoughtful discussion. Here goes:

Thursday, April 9th

I was sitting in my friend’s room last night when I noticed the recent issue of Stanford Magazine sitting on her floor next to her roommate’s bed. On the cover was a (n admittedly adorable) small Chinese child, beneath the heading “Our Greatest Export: Knowledge and How it can make a Difference.” I cringed, as I always do when imperialism is veiled by the rhetoric of humanitarianism. I glanced over the article and it was more of the same- presumptuous efforts of humanitarianism, valiantly conquering the desperation of the developing third world, clad in the white face of postmodern globalizing hypercapital. Now, did the article talk about any of these seemingly histrionic descriptors? Of course not- no one wants to read that (…). Instead, it lightly glided over the economic needs of rural China and how “advanced Western technologies” can help overcome poverty. The details were more elaborate, but the basic assumptions were the same- the west has all the answers to cure the ills of the foreign destitute.

So, what does this have to do with race? Well, in the world of race as performed action- or race as praxis rather than biology (a la Hazel Markus and Paula Moya)- whiteness loves to perform itself by not naming itself. The seeming absence of race in an article like this or, rather, the lopsided discussion of race, the (unnamed white) “us” and the (named Chinese) “other,” is itself a study in imperialism. As Richard Dyer so aptly pointed out, whiteness rarely speaks its own name and in so doing maintains its position as racially normative. By locating the identification of others as racialized without identifying one’s own racial (or political, or economic) position, the white western body is made and kept central, and by default all other bodies are made marginal. In the so-called “post-racial” social and political sphere of the Americas, the absolute seamlessness with which whiteness  is able to keep its silence should be an indicator that we live in no such era, especially when quality of life metrics (themselves problematically rooted in western notions of “quality”) are all disproportionately skewed based on race.

That’s the redux version of why humanitarianism is often an imperial project. Where we move from, our position and all of its accompanying paradigms, especially the unconscious ones, are vitally more important than how we rationalize our movements as good or bad or necessary. The fact that so many members of the first-world ruling class immediately reject this kind of an analysis based on the “urgent needs” that must be met is further evidence of the amazing attachment to racially informed paradigms of progress and development, and the inability to distance oneself from our sense of what’s “normal” or “just,” which are all socially and often racially conditioned. I argue that this is based on the precedent of white denial, the function that allows whiteness to access unheard of privilege without any real culpability or account for the structures that marginalize and oppress in order to maintain such privilege.





Dear History, part two

6 04 2010

This letter was drafted “length-wise” on the page.

Oct. 27, 2008

Dear History,
Maybe if I write you sideways I’ll get another perspective on you. I know you maybe insofar as I know anything. I’ve read books about you, watched movies about your stories, and learned of how you are held in peoples hearts in different ways. Most think you are dead, at least where I come from. They speak of you in the past tesne. And so many ritualize you every day, exalt you in their prayer rooms and anguish over you in their daily lamentations. Why, oh why, History! Why did you take such and such a loved one? Why not a brief moment more of that ambrosia liquid affection that sustains our stories of ourselves?

I think I know the reason why, History. I think it’s because you really live backwards, reversing through the eons as we plummet towards you. The Universe is a giant swing and you and I play at different ends of the axis, breathing in the spaces of zero gravity and weeping when our momenta meet. Time is a parabola and we collide at the nadir before screaming back again into the space, the mystery of living. And whenever we collide, humans call it a moment of import, of insight, a moment of realization. They also call it rock bottom, because that’s where we see you the clearest and from there can see everything you have seen.





From Muse, Music, and Musings

6 04 2010

I found these letters written during Saul Williams guest-teaching stint at Stanford last year. Feels appropriate that this signal my return to this forum. The prompt was to draft a letter to History. This is unedited.

October 27th, 2008

Dear History

I haven’t known what to say to you for a long time. You seem so large and so obscured. I think I’m afraid of you and the things you’ve seen. I wonder if you would have intervened if you could have. But I guess, since you’ve been around since the beginning, you were in on the  master plan or maybe you never drifted away from that permanent state of the primordial. I wonder what your eyes look like. Have they changed with the epochs? Do you ever weep? Do you already know how things will turn out? Does that soften the infinite wounds you will witness? If you haven’t seen the end, do you get scared of death like us or bored because you will never know that passage?

I still don’t know what to say to you. I don’t know if you are the vast unknowable collected moments of time or just me, myself moving through life without greater or lesser awareness of my surroundings. I guess it’s more frightening to speak to myself as history, knowing that somewhere in my body are the vestiges of age old holocausts, wars, romances, marriages, births, deaths, dying stars, nascent universes, colliding particles, all the creations and fabrications of physics, theory and philosophy, evolution, and all things that you and time have seen together. Everything must live in my body from relic or relative through the energy that no one created. Could it be that I am history?

Holy shit!

But perhaps there are nothing but stories, told over and over again, creating the moments of history and myself anew. Maybe there is only one moment in history, continually explaining itself, trying to make itself known without the extra opinions of all we pundits, historians, and housewives. Everyone keeps the story, like the sacred fire of ceremony. Everyone keeps the fire of history kindling, billowed by our lives and every breath we breathe or whisper, every song and every mourning wail. Everyone keeps the fire of history.

I’ve always thought that free will and fate were the same thing, like every duality. Maybe you know the answer. Maybe you have no opinion, having every opinion available to you at all times.

But what’s the use of asking questions when it’s raining sweet warmth on the trees and I’m still in my room.





Stanford Summer Theater

3 08 2009

SST_eFlyer

Stanford Summer Theater presents Sophocles’ Electra. Examiner says, “The play has everything: anguish, laughter, deception, murder, vengeance, motion, lasciviousness, original music, big sound, selfishness and altruism,” and Mercury Daily news calls it “an exciting and thoughtful production.” SF Gate also has a bundle of lovely reviews, one saying, “Verve, vigor, vengeance, – all exhibited in spades in this remarkable production.”

For my part, I’m acting in the role of Orestes. It’s been an utter delight to work with this cast on this material, which has been incredibly challenging, but equally gratifying. I hope you’ll come see us!

We run for two more weeks on Stanford University’s Memorial Auditorium stage. Tickets here.





Letters from generation Why

21 07 2009

Bio: Luke Taylor is a student at Stanford University. He is majoring in Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity.

I was sitting in a Docudrama course during the Winter Quarter this past year, taught by a  professor I very much respect, when we heard a summary of the recent film, “Frost/Nixon,” a dramatized version of British journalist David Frost’s landmark interviews with former president Richard Nixon, in which he ostensibly gets Nixon’s confession to the Water Gate scandal. When the presentation was through, we discussed some of the political dynamics of the time and I was surprised by my professor’s acknowledgment of Nixon’s relative craft as a politician. I raised my hand and asked why she would make such an uncharacteristically (albeit qualified) positive comment about a social and economic conservative who, but for formal process, is acknowledged as a crook of the highest order. I likened him to George Bush, assuming the two were comparable in character as they were in political ideology and criminal propensity. She stopped the class and looked me dead in the eyes- “I’m glad you said something,” she said. “I want to get something very clear.” She took off her glasses and looked at every face in the room, none of us much older than 22. “For those of you who can’t remember life before George Bush, what you have experienced for the last 8 years is anomalous beyond description. Absolutely, we’ve had corrupt politicians, war mongers, and maniacs in the White House as a matter of course, but never- never- have we had such an inept man, so addled in the brain as he is, puppeted by powers greater than himself, rule this country. I want this to be clear. What you witnessed in George Bush’s administration has been truly unique. You should know that political injustices have not always been rendered by idiots.”

The implication of her words struck me then and continue to unravel my understanding of the modern political and social climate I have know over the past eight years. When Bush came to power in 2000, I was 14. I remember the presidential race between him and Al Gore, the hotly contested polling results in Florida and Ohio, and the momentous Supreme Court ruling that put Bush in office- I remember them as events I watched on television and discussed in school, absent any comprehension of historical context. I even went back last year and checked the facts, writing a paper on the fabrication of legitimacy in the 2000 presidential election, concluding that the last eight years had, in fact, been a political sham. Even so, the magnitude of delirium that pervaded the American ethos over the last eight years of the Bush administration hadn’t hit me.

What strikes me now is the worldview my generation has developed because of this ethos, having spent the better part of our adolescence in the frenetic apocalyptic narrative of the Bush era. As aware, conscious individuals, the world we have witnessed during the most pivotal time in the development of our values and beliefs is one beleaguered by at least two official wars (in Iraq and Afghanistan), supplemented by an ill-defined, rhetoric heavy, ironically termed “War on Terror,” stratified by the largest economic gap between rich and poor ever witnessed in history, in which the ideals of Democracy have been gutted in the name of National Security, and untold innocents slaughtered to justify the mechanisms of occupation and the free market. Quoting Nazi politician Herman Goering in an address she made in 2003, Arundhati Roy reminds us of Empire’s favorite manufactured product- the consent of the public voice: “People can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. All you have to do is tell them they’re being attacked and denounce the pacifists for a lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.” Sounds achingly familiar, doesn’t it?

My generation came into themselves as citizens at exactly the time when the new imperial project of globalization and the installment of the United States as the uncontested Super Power de jure had been perfected, brilliantly orchestrating media complicity, economic necessity, and political righteousness in a neatly packaged consumer pill called Freedom: Freedom to Preemptive Strike, Freedom to Censure, Freedom to Occupy, Freedom to suspend untold liberties and commit acts tantamount to genocide across the globe. What does that say about the way my peers and I have been taught to see the world? What are we to expect from our political leaders and what should we feel entitled to as American citizens, with our lenses shaped as they have been by comodified terror? In this world, any number of domestic crimes- like the repugnantly named Patriot Act- and international treaty violations- like the frequent and egregious ignorance of the Geneva Conventions- are justified in the now bloodstained names of Freedom and Democracy. The list goes on, and of course, it’s all old news, repeated ad nauseum in the infotainment forums of the day. Collateral death of innocents is now literally daily news, which we gloss over en route to the sports section, just as we pass America’s homeless on the streets on our way, unable to acknowledge the innumerable sufferings we are bombarded with every moment of our young lives.

In the age of Obama, the era of Change and Hope, we’d rather not visit the past. Those of us born in the privileged halls of the affluent progressive left breathed a sigh of relief on November 2nd, as much in celebration of the promise of a new radically informed Obama administration, as for our desperate gratitude that the Bush highjacking of America (and the world) was over. What’s done is done, we say. The nightmare of war tyrants masquerading as patriotic traditionalists is gone. But of course it is not. This recession has seen American job losses close to 4 million and a national unemployment rate nearing 10% and almost twice that number in some individual states like Michigan. While the gears of a free-market economy like ours are primed for such volatility, the policies of the Bush administration were clear death warrants for the global economy- history defying national debt, unprecedented exodus of U.S. jobs to cheap, unsafe, slave-like labor abroad, and a zealous denial of and organized fight against calls from the scientific community to take action on global climate change and the need for clean renewable energies. It seems a shame that the first term of Obama’s administration will be spent cleaning up the legacy of a glorified frat party with the litter of mindlessness strewn haphazardly for the world to see.

Six years of blundered war and occupation, a carefully designed set-up for the largest global economic crisis since the 1930s, and adamant denial of scientific consensus and fact regarding the safety and future of human life on this planet- all accompanied by complete disdain for dissent and policy after policy that has eroded the very foundation of American democracy. Remember when 10 million people marched all over the world against the war in Iraq before the invasion? Remember when calls against unilateralism, driven by the greed of inevitable war profiteering called for peace and reason? And now, billions upon billions of dollars in contracts have been awarded to the world’s most heinous corporations for the “reconstruction” of an ancient civilization plundered. The Bush administration’s adherence to the Rule of Law was a mild mannered discussion over a cup of coffee and a bowl of grits shared with members of the ruling class and delegates from the Council of Global Super Corporations.

And that says nothing of the staggering racism from the ultra right and the weathering of race relations in the United States during the past three presidential elections. Remember the lists and lists of disenfranchised black voters in Florida? Or if that’s to long ago, remember Lindsey Graham last week at the confirmation hearings for Judge Sotomayor? Pat Buchanan? Newt Gingrich? Jeff Sessions? These are not new actors, but their tethers have been loosened by eight years of an administration whose stance on affirmative action somehow formed the words “reverse discrimination,” all but ending the public dialogue on repairing the last 500 years of tyranny.

Neither does it say anything of the campaign to demonize and vilify the queer community in the name of traditional family values (though I don’t hear anyone complaining about our national divorce rate or picketing outside single parent households, but that’s beside the point).

My generation has been raised on a diet of bloodshed, injustice, lies, and utter recklessness, ex cathedra. How do we metabolize the untold traumas that kind of upbringing creates? How do we stretch ourselves beyond the world fed to us through the television into a reality where human life is precious again? Any one of the global crises facing us today is enough to turn your stomach, but that our governments have been complicit in the architecture of a culture and society rooted in fear (dare I say “terror?”) is too much to bare. No wonder my generation was spending $58 billion a year on liquor before we were 21; numbness is all but requisite for survival in this kind of world, and comfort after comfort, both legal and illicit, are marketed to us day-in-day-out, ready for our consumption. If you want to look away, it’s going to cost you, but we can’t wait for the new Soma of the day to assuage the fever of Empire’s virus pulsing in our veins. My generation’s consumption of prescription drugs, narcotics, alcohol, and all forms of intoxicants extends well beyond that of any other generation in history.

And yet, in communities across America (and indeed the whole world), the promise of youth is always celebrated. Regardless of class or privilege, parents, community leaders, and those who have spent the last few decades fighting Empire in its myriad forms take solace in our generation-“you are tomorrow’s leaders!” they tell us, with a glint of hope in their eye.”Surely you will finally bring the insanity to an end.”

I wonder though, if we are up to the task. So many of us in the privileged United States would much rather stay asleep than face the fuming beast lurking just beyond our doorstep. I do not count myself a cynic or an ideologue or in any way free from the conditioning of the time. Only that the repercussions of being raised in such a social and political climate are beginning to reveal themselves, undeniably illuminated by the mounting helplessness around us. It only takes a moment of reflection on how we lead our lives, how we orient to the future, justifying our ambition for greater levels of comfort, and how we treat one another to know, viscerally, that something is terribly wrong with this setup.

Truly, this is a new age, one in which the financial cost and efficiency of communications technologies have reached futuristic proportions. But at what social cost? What has happened to our human power, when our communities have been digitized, streamlined, and templated? When our allegiance is begged for and bought from the nonprofit and corporate sectors both, by way of facebook groups and fan pages? When the revolutionaries of history are placed on tee-shirts, posters, transformed into an aesthetic of inertia, and sold at a profit? How easily our sense of urgency abates when we have something consumable to distract us.

There is no conclusion to a writing like this. Diatribe and apology fill the lines of blog after blog online these days and I won’t attempt an alternative, as I have no satisfying answers, only a desire to refine the questions we ask ourselves as we move further into the decade and prepare for the coming days and weeks.





Life on the Vineyard

14 07 2009
Basket of freshly picked mission figs and dwarf plums from our orchard

Basket of freshly picked mission figs and dwarf plums from our orchard

Mission Figs, tempura beans, Cowgirl Humbolt Fog Blue, Roshambo Zin

Mission Figs, tempura beans, Cowgirl Humbolt Fog Blue, Roshambo Zin, LT's miso

Moonrise from the East

Moonrise from the East

Sunset fading over the valley

Sunset fading over the valley

Valley lights

Valley lights