and the Winter of Our Revolution
There is a point in every political rebellion, in every self-conscious effort to reign in hierarchy and rectify the wrongs of hegemony, when the forces of the State and the forces of the Revolution meet head to head on the battlefield of truth. That battlefield has become an increasingly public forum, where the greater body politic and even voyeuristic foreigners get to participate in a new spectator sport, virtually, if nothing else. This past two months on Wall Street has been one of those occasions.
The grievances or ideals that give rise to rebellion and revolution have varied little throughout the long and sordid history of civilization. Their underlying motivation seems to spring from a common source, grounded in a basic human experience, by now a distant and nearly forgotten memory trace. It speaks to an intuition whose origin is primeval, an inspiration that even the rebels do not fully understand because it speaks to them in a “language older than words” (Jensen).
There remains, within our species, the faintest recollection of a feral autonomy – a primal freedom to dwell, and to engage the world spontaneously, outside the bonds of historical necessity, agricultural cycles, or work schedules – with little, if any, artifice or intervention. It is, in this sense, clearly anarchic; not wanting enforced mediation of life through some coercive or controlling principle – a leader, representative, or designated institutional hierarchy. Yet, it seeks neither unrestrained license, nor the contemporary illusion of free choice. Rather, it strives to express a basic predisposition to participate artlessly, capriciously, in the game of life, filling its senses with the “earthly sensuous” (Abrams). Moreover, it seeks voluntary communion (sharing) within, and with the support of, a small community, band, or tribe. Nations and States are not such communities. Empire is, quite simply, anathema to the unfettered and participatory energy of this primitive intentionality.
We have witnessed revolutionary movements and a concomitant escalation of belligerent Statist responses around the world recently, whether those States proclaim to be democracies, autocracies, or monarchies by constitution. We saw such escalation in Iran, in Egypt, and in Bahrain; we have seen it in Greece, Italy, Libya, Tunisia, Yemen, Syria, Israel, and now, in America. Crackdowns in the USA are not uncommon, but the most recent ones began two weeks ago in Oakland, California, where an American veteran of the Iraq War had his skull fractured and sustained brain injury due to strong-armed police tactics aimed at silencing voices of dissent. Subsequently, the Mayor of Oakland, Jean Quan, gave the police chief orders to evict demonstrators from their occupation site. Shortly thereafter, the mayor’s deputy and legal counsel both tendered their resignations; clear indications that the incipient violence and belligerence of the State (the city) is making even some of its own power brokers uncomfortable.
Similar shows of force were coordinated in quasi-conspiratorial fashion as mayors of at least eighteen cities huddled on conference calls to coordinate their strategies. Eviction of protestors has now been forcibly carried out in Portland Oregon, Albany NY, Denver, Salt Lake City, and of course, at Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan. So now, those who had lost their homes through evictions, enforced by the financial violence of corrupt bankers, have also lost their rights to publicly protest the inequities and injustices of the corporate State at the hands of the State’s own security forces.
What we must not lose sight of here is the foundation of this “all too human” (Nietzsche) response to the State, its hierarchies, its mediating boundaries, and its paid enforcers. Quoting St. Augustine in De Doctrina Christiana, “In a reach of arrogance so great, the soul of fallen man seeks to lord it even over those who are by nature its equal, its fellow man.” It is this unrelenting (sometimes masked, sometimes overt) drive towards management or enslavement of the body politic – legally, economically, socially – that lays the muted foundations for rebellion and revolution.
Yet, why do revolutions never seem to work out as planned; whether it is the French variety, the American, the Russian, or the Egyptian? Those rebelling believe they want regime change, or fairness, or justice, or representation. They might even talk about democracy, equality, or freedom. Certainly, these are lofty enough sounding goals. And, in a profound sense, they do seek freedom; but do they understand exactly what that term denotes, what constitutes real freedom? And this inability to define it may be the obscure intuition inhibiting our current batch of revolutionaries from voicing specific demands; their own sense of what is needed being ambiguous, even to themselves.
Our modern, democratic ideal of freedom emerged from a complex brew of industrialization, commercialization, commodification, and the State-enforced legislation of human experience. We tend to think, today, in terms of free choice (from toothpastes to presidents), or free time – time off-the-clock, unscheduled time — in short, freedom from economic servitude; otherwise called financial freedom. However, such concepts are only a distraction from the real nature of our enslavement. And, it is not much brighter when you look at the other freedoms legislated through our bill of rights. What are these freedoms anyway, if at any time the State may forcibly remove you, incarcerate you, or even adjudicate your freedoms away? Perhaps it is a legitimate question to ask: Is it better to live in a State like Syria or Libya, where an autocrat’s demise can be foretold by the stench of death at his doorstep? Or do you prefer being where the mechanisms and subtle machinations of the State can continue to medicate and seduce like a Siren’s song, while legislating to keep you enthralled and enslaved?
Such freedoms (legal rights) only serve to highlight the nature of the scaffolding along with the chains that bind us, while they serve up tasty bones to placate hungry dogs. Yet, the systems of hierarchy and institutions of control continue unmolested, monitoring and managing our daily lives. These so-called freedoms, together with the playpen of consumer choice, act as mere salve or medication to mask the pain associated with the symptoms of our disease – the institutionalization (or confinement) of our feral core. It is this disease that cripples our preconscious capacity to act (pouvoir), to participate, and to live life intertwined with an animate environment (Merleau-Ponty). But the freedom sought out, back behind the revolutionary act, hidden deep inside the shell of our legislated lives, and often unbeknownst to the revolutionary herself, is precisely that lost primal autonomy – a freedom that, once found, would allow us to dwell comfortably in honest egalitarian communities; social enclaves grounded in strong consanguine and affine relations, and in closest proximity to the nature that enlivens us. This feral memory is a desire to be leaderless, but not rudderless; willingly taking direction from elders and more experienced colleagues. It is a primal urge to participate the world, and to share that participation with friends, family, and kinfolk, in the most generous sense of that word.
Yet, I say it again. This is not what our demonstrators will demand. As the Egyptians are demanding the right to vote, and to share in the wealth of nations, so too our demonstrators here in the USA will demand the right to a vote that means something, along with a more equitable share in the wealth of our nation. Why? Because that is all they have known, and that is what they have been led to cherish by those who still are calling the shots.