Living in a Satire: The Limitations of Political Humor against Hate

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The day after the disastrous Trump Press Conference, where the President of the United States stated in response to a question regarding the Charlottesville protests and attacks executed by whites supremacists: “So this week, it is Robert E. Lee. I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is coming down. I wonder, is it George Washington next week? And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know, you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?” I discovered an article on my news feed by Vice called “What the Hell Was That?” Seems like an appropriate response to the surreal horror of Trump’s bizarre responses, but I was thrown off by the comment Vice News shared the article with:

“We should probably just use this headline every day.”

There is, I admit, some truth to this: it seems our nation is continuously spinning out of control with one atrocity and horrible remark following the next, but the nonchalance of this statement, the unnecessary attempt at scavenging a bit of wit and humor – no matter how bitter – dampens the rage of the article itself.

Humor has long been a weapon to be wielded against oppressors. Satire is one of the oldest genres in the world, being utilized regularly in Ancient Egypt and Greece, and in more recent years the Yippies (Youth Internationalist Party) utilized theatrical pranks and gestures (for instance, nominating a pig as president) to mock the status quo with “symbolic politics.” But just because humor is abundant and well-established as a political tool does not mean that it is always effective or appropriate to use, especially in a society that seems to have become a satire of itself. Even in the funniest, most irreverent, satires (be it Doonesbury, The Simpsons, Dr. Strangelove, Blazing Saddles, Fight Club, Grand Theft Auto, or even Borat) the characters live with sincerity, conviction, and seriousness. They are not simply shuffling about their lives guffawing, rolling their eyes, and making jokes about the president in an attempt to get a laugh, because living in a satire is deadly serious. Humor must be used decisively and skillfully, it simply doesn’t work to drop a bit of wit, smile sheepishly, and pat yourself on the back. It can’t be half-sword, half-shield.

Many believe that humor can be used to deligitimize hate and ignorance, but while hatred is absurd, it is not always easy to shame into submission. The Neo-Nazis and Alt-Righters are fueled by feelings of victimization, a certainty that it is the world that is descending into absurdity. When you humiliate a bully, the bully may back down for the moment, but that wont make them less angry, or less inclined towards violence. Some may point to the humorous subversion of Wunsidiel’s Rechts Gegen Rechts (“the Right Against the Right”) as proof of the effectiveness of humor against hatred, but don’t forget that these tactics of humor are tied to the real world: ” For every meter the neo-Nazis marched, local residents and businesses pledged to donate 10 euros (then equivalent to about $12.50) to a program that helps people leave right-wing extremist groups, called EXIT Deutschland.” These are not just jokes with a political bent, this is a movement dedicated to utilizing nonviolence to produce introspection and remove the power of a neo-nazi march. Also remember: the German goverment’s response to neo-Nazi marches in Berlin was very different than in America:

“For the neo-Nazi march, one flag per 50 people was allowed, images of Rudolf Hess were forbidden, as were drums and military music. Police individually searched each marcher in a specially set-up tent before allowing them into the penned-off march area. The neo-Nazis had to cover up tattoos and they weren’t even allowed to chant slogans. In a country where guns are banned, nothing more dangerous than a mobile phone was allowed on them. Whereas in Charlottesville, there were fully armed militias on the streets.”

It is easier to utilize humor as a weapon when hatred is already considered unacceptable, but when alt-Righters feel justified and vilified, when they wield the memetic flag of “kekistan” on an online trolling campaign to incite anger, when Trump tries to fight absurdity by being more absurd, we must consider carefully when we need to tell jokes and when we need to speak plainly. The alt-Right is bearing the standard of a joke proudly, they are using the very same tactics of theatricality and absurdity as the Yuppies used:

In many ways, Kek is the apotheosis of the bizarre alternative reality of the alt-right: at once absurdly juvenile, transgressive, and racist, as well as reflecting a deeper, pseudo-intellectual purpose that lends it an appeal to young ideologues who fancy themselves deep thinkers. It dwells in that murky area they often occupy, between satire, irony, mockery, and serious ideology; Kek can be both a big joke to pull on liberals and a reflection of the alt-right’s own self-image as serious agents of chaos in modern society.

It seems appropriate that the New York Times retrospective great comedian and activist Dick Gregory shares his quote: “Humor can no more find the solution to race problems than it can cure cancer.” Humor is not the panacea of politics, but it is a tool for introspection and it can be used to expose hate for what it is: stupidity and absurdity. But it seems at this point, at least in America, that the hate is pretty open and identifiable, and we’re already a joke to the rest of the world. If we are living in a satire, maybe we should tread carefully and take things a little more seriously.

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The Taste of Snow

Sugar covered snowflakes were the cookies, they were rich and had that brown plumpness that that most people think only doughnuts own, but instead of one hole each had an intricate maze of deep-fried criss-crosses. No two were alike, just like the real thing, and when you bit into one the powdered sugar and glaze would slip through and electrify your tongue. They also dissolved like real snowflakes but I always wished it would rain down cookies from the sky rather than what I was told was frozen water. The recipe was closely guarded and only brought out when we brought a pine tree into the house, and I waited eagerly for that taste of sugar on dough. Too young to cook I would wait by the mixing bowl as it growled and wait by the oven as it hummed and wait by the window as something not quite so taste fell silently by. I think I was by the window when there was a crash, not the clammer of pans but the brittle kind that means you need to watch your step.

“There’s glass in it now”

“Not enough to make more”

It was a real dilemma. Make glass-filled cookies, or no cookies at all. I, being young, brave, and by the window where glass looked perfectly safe, thought I’d take my chances. But I was short and in the minority. In the end we made them, but only to look at. So I had to eat real snow and watch the platter to try and remember the crisp taste of silent fireworks and lemon glaze. We never made them again because the cookbook got too wet to read. I’ve always wondered how many other children had the chance to learn what snowflakes really taste like.

Notes of a Dirty Young Man: Addendum

It’s been a little over a month since I posted my long rant about my depression, my most infamous post by my own standards since it gained the most views and earned me more than a few concerned messages. I suppose that happens when you drop certain words in a public forum, but now I want to say things with a clearer head on my shoulders. First, I need to thank all of my friends and family who have reached out to me, and supported me, and assisted me in getting help. Thank you to those of you who simply took the time to read some long mind dump on the Internet. The attention was appreciated, it was helpful. I don’t mean to say that it was clickbait, because I was being desperately honest. Sometimes we need to know that we are simply seen by the world, and that we can leave a mark upon it.

I have medicine now, and in less than a week of medication I feel like a person again. The part of me that is me, that is Patrick, had been distant for a long time, and I had to scream to myself at the top of my lungs to get my body and brain to function. It was exhausting, and I was growing increasingly distant. I was telling myself that I would feel better if I solved problems in myself, and it was all the more devastating when solving those problems had no payoff. I was close to the conclusion that the problem was myself. Now, with medicine, there is still pain, there are still moments that can dig up sadness and shame and guilt, but these moments no longer close in on me. The cycle of worrying is lessened. There are still dangerous ideations, but I see them for what they are: reflexes. They are thoughts that pass by as single frames in the film of my life. They are not cloying.

Taking pills makes me nauseous, I eat less than I should when I am already too thin, they make me tired, I find reading more difficult, writing too, I can fuck but not cum, I cannot drink, grapefruit is poison, but I don’t really care because I actually feel interested in life and not bored with being. I have plenty of problems but now I don’t drown by thinking about them, I feel ready to move forward and face them. I feel ready to attempt reconciliation with those I have hurt, rather than relying on apologies and running. I have never believed that happiness is the true goal of living, so I am well prepared to live now with a rational sadness, but I do not feel afraid of happiness or contentment anymore either. Some caution is necessary, relapse is possible, it has happened before. There is no escaping certain cycles of life, but there are ways to learn how to bear them. I appreciate the patience of this world. I appreciate its love. I appreciate the struggles of those who are not me, and those who have put aside their own struggles to help me. I hope I can give as much love and patience and support in return.

 

– PH

Manifestophilis: Lies, Reality, Dreams

Patrick Higgins: Would you say you are a liar?

The Devil: Yes. But I’m only saying that to be honest.

PH: Are you a compulsive liar?

TD: In a sense. I lie compulsively as a choice. My whole being is constructed from compulsion and spontaneity, it’s all eating meals where I can. Ingesting what will give me a new feeling. Lying just plays into that. But I don’t lie to deceive.

PH: Doesn’t lying require deception by necessity?

TD: Yes, but lying can be a vehicle for things other than deception. Sometimes one deception is used to make a much bigger point. I am never more sincere than when I am lying, because when I am lying I’m lying at something that deserves to be lied to. It’s a puzzle: if you can figure out what the deception is, it will reveal more of my honesty underneath.

PH: Would you say you’ve been lying regularly throughout these interviews?

D: When you agree with what I say, that’s when you should think twice.

PH: But isn’t that a little bit hypocritical? You’ve said before you have a great disdain for people who purposely conceal their intentions behind this kind of ambiguity. 

TD: Well, perhaps it’s a case of do as I say not as I do. I would also like to point out that there’s a significant difference between the claim that that everything is relative and the claim that everything can be doubted. Truth can be doubted and still be true, or perhaps it’s true in a different way than we realized. Doubt is incredibly important in all things, so there can be a kind of lying that utilizes that necessity and that power. Any sort of report, any kind of statement is, to some degree, a lie because it is never the event itself. 

PH: Nora Ephron, in an interview with Studs Terkel, said regarding journalism that “all writing is about selecting what you want to use and once you choose what you want to select you’re not being objective.” 

TD: Yes, exactly.

PH: It’s also a bit of a predicament though, because, in that interview she continues by saying that she struggled with the feeling that portraying the feminist movement truthfully was going to do it more harm than good. 

TD: Well, yes, because progress is ugly. It’s unorganized. It’s not this idealized thing that rides in on a white horse in bright shining armor. It’s a weird thing where change simultaneously requires an incredible cynicism because – as I said – you need to doubt everything to avoid being controlled, but you also need to have a bit of Don Quixote idealism about you. You need to doubt facts and believe things that aren’t true to get the right mix that allows you to live effectively and purposefully. 

PH: I think there’s a big difference between facts and truth, in that the experience of personal truth, ideological truth, can exist and remain powerful even if it runs in the face of facts.

TD: Well belief is certainly just as powerful as fact. It doesn’t matter how things actually are if you can’t see or comprehend that reality, because those facts aren’t going to determine your actions.

PH: Which can be a real problem when you have people manufacturing a truth that instills fear.

TD: Right. It can be good or bad. Again, the most healthy Truths, I think, are those that can maintain a heavy level of doubt while acknowledging facts. Being in the process of seeking what works. It’s sort of a spiritual science. 

PH: It’s kind of a Feyerabendian method of psychology.

TD: Yeah, kind of like that.

PH: Of course you run the risk of blinding yourself with doubt and falling into the same trap.

TD: Of course. The risk is there. There’s always risk in anything.

PH: Do you think there’s any way to mitigate that risk? 

TD: Well because this is structured around the individual, the personal, its hard to concoct a universal panacea for ideological traps. Probably the best you can do is simply try and insure that you have people around you that are capable of bulwarking yourself against dangerous shifts. Have people who can speak to you reasonably, fight back if you become too certain of an ideology, support you if you’re too unsure of yourself. It’s unfortunate that the only solution I know is external, because that means you have less control of it, but human nature was never constructed around the individual being in complete control of themselves anyway.

PH: So really its about constructing whatever web of facts and lies works for you?

TD: Yes, preferably at little or no cost to anyone else. It’s not about rejecting real facts, or reading lies, its about asking yourself what information you yourself need to live on. If some factual information does not effectively encourage your way of living, you can acknowledge that it is a fact, but not feel obliged to carry it into your worldview.

PH: But can’t that still be dangerous? If I doubt the facts that build the foundations that other people live upon, even if I only do so to provide a positive ideology for myself, won’t I damage other people’s lives by the living of my own life?

TD: Yes, you will, but that will happen no matter what. It’s important to remember that this works in conjunction with other things I’ve talked about. You need to establish your own damage control through the people around you, and you should always remember that if the methodology of this selective process works for you then it can work for other people too. So when you move into situations where you’re working with other people you need to curb some of those selections and start considering ignored facts. The more people involved in this process the more you need to cut away the necessary self-imposed illusion.

PH: In these collective situations is there still an illusion being maintained?

TD: Certainly, they’re just collective. I mean, what is mass media but a collective dream cultivated by groups? 

PH: But what about in the reality of decision making?

TD: Well then the dream just gets put onto the supposed reality of the world. The systems we establish, whether they give us libraries, renovate cities, or illegitimately incarcerate thousands, they’re just dreams. Dreams put into motion by groups with enough power to enact their view of the world on our reality.

PH: So their dream can be our nightmare. 

TD: If we don’t like it, which we usually don’t. And by “we” I mean almost everyone outside of that group. So either we need to find new dreamers to speak for us, or we need to stop having small groups speak for all of us. 

PH: Do you think either possibility would work?

TD: The latter could work, but only in the face of real crisis or incredible technological advancement. People would make decisions as a group like that only  because they were cut off from everyone else or if there was no need to get anything from outside of the group. Either its a city-state by necessity, or by automation. 

PH: Which you’ve already established has its own problems. What about the first possibility, getting new dreamers?

TD: Certainly that’s still possible, but it is becoming more difficult. I blame that in part because of the rise of media that can project the dominant dream, it makes it harder to think up anything new. Plus, the people constructing this dream-media are also profiting off of it, so its self-feeding. 

PH: What would your dream be if you could enact it?

TD: Lots of drugs. Lots of sex. Lots of art. Enough science to keep it interesting. Arranged outlets for concentrated violence at nobody’s expense. A reduction in the human population. Domesticated bears for pets. A lovely sort of chaos.

Relatability is Not Necessary for Good Art

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With any sort of artistic creation, particularly those that one hopes to show to the world and maybe make a bit of a living off of, there always seems to come up the question of how relatable the work is. Does it speak to the audience on a personal level? Do they feel drawn in to the work? Can it run parallel to the lives of the audience? These can be very important artistic questions, but recently it feels like these questions (or perhaps certain answers: “yes yes yes!”) have taken large portions of artistic critique and development hostage. It seems like nothing kills art faster than a casual “it’s not relatable” or “it’s not relevant,” and that’s terrible.

This topic surged up to the cultural forefront for awhile in 2014 after Ira Glass tweeted

@JohnLithgow as Lear tonight: amazing. Shakespeare: not good. No stakes, not relatable. I think I’m realizing: Shakespeare sucks

It didn’t take long for a slew of articles to pour out dissecting Glass’s claim that Shakespeare sucks, most of which happily concluded that he was wrong. Many focused on pointing out how Shakespeare could be relevant, how it could speak to the human condition, etc. etc. Rebecca Mead, however, took a different approach in her New Yorker article The Scourge of “Relatability” and attacked the notion of “relatabliliy” being an effective yardstick for artistic criticism or legitimacy.

What are the qualities that make a work “relatable,” and why have these qualities come to be so highly valued? To seek to see oneself in a work of art is nothing new, nor is it new to enjoy the sensation. Since Freud theorized the process of identification—as a means whereby an individual develops his or her personality through idealizing and imitating a parent or other figure—the concept has fruitfully been applied to the appreciation of the arts. Identification with a character is one of the pleasures of reading, or of watching movies, or of seeing plays, though if it is where one’s engagement with the work begins, it should not be where critical thought ends. The concept of identification implies that the reader or viewer is, to some degree at least, actively engaged with the work in question: she is thinking herself into the experience of the characters on the page or screen or stage.

But to demand that a work be “relatable” expresses a different expectation: that the work itself be somehow accommodating to, or reflective of, the experience of the reader or viewer. The reader or viewer remains passive in the face of the book or movie or play: she expects the work to be done for her. If the concept of identification suggested that an individual experiences a work as a mirror in which he might recognize himself, the notion of relatability implies that the work in question serves like a selfie: a flattering confirmation of an individual’s solipsism.

To appreciate “King Lear”—or even “The Catcher in the Rye” or “The Fault in Our Stars”—only to the extent that the work functions as one’s mirror would make for a hopelessly reductive experience. But to reject any work because we feel that it does not reflect us in a shape that we can easily recognize—because it does not exempt us from the active exercise of imagination or the effortful summoning of empathy—is our own failure.

Shortly after, Derek Thompson rebuffed Mead’s article by writing The Power of Relatability in The Atlantic:

Relatability might be a neologism, but like a King Lear play set in 21st century Washington, D.C., it merely puts a modern dress on an old idea. Many of the best plays have—and still do—relate explicitly and purposefully to their contemporary audiences. It wasn’t by accident that Oscar Wilde repeatedly skewered the upper-crust of Victorian society and became beloved for it. After all, his audience was upper-crust Victorian. It wasn’t coincidence that Shakespeare, writing for an audience that often featured sitting English monarchs, wrote 10 plays about former English monarchs.

If you don’t like relatability, you’re going to hate the history of American theater, which has been steadfastly devoted to writing plays about typical Americans, living in typical America. Long Day’s Journey Into Night is nearly autobiographical and, famously, scarringly relatable to any family that has suffered from a form of addiction; Angels in America and The Normal Heart took on the AIDS crisis at the height of the AIDS crisis. A Raisin in the Sun? Death of a Salesmen? These aren’t exactly Mesozoic dramas. The Crucible might be the most famous American play that isn’t about contemporary American life, but as a metaphor for America in the Cold War, its politics couldn’t be any more current for its contemporary audience.

The point isn’t that great art has to be about contemporary life. I’m not sure great art has to be anything. But so much wonderful theater has served, historically, as an exaggerated mirror held up to a country at a specific moment in history that it’s shocking to see a writer blast the idea that “[a play] be somehow accommodating to, or reflective of, the experience of the reader or viewer.” Ira Glass did not invent the idea that great plays ought to reflect their times.

I find Mead’s argument more interesting (or, perhaps, more “relatable’). Yes, Thompson is correct in pointing out that Shakespeare wrote plays that featured English monarchs for English monarchs, but the vast majority of his audience was, in fact, the groundlings. Theater was a popular form of entertainment across classes, and his use of language simultaneously balances poetic verse, innovate new words, and baudy humor to keep everyone listening. The fact is, Shakespeare wasn’t just good at making his plays relatable because he felt the need to speak to the human condition, Shakespeare had to keep his audience satisfied to make his living. To bore the groundlings could result in verbal (or physical) abuse of the actors, to displease the nobility could result in losing commissions, funds, or your head. Shakespeare didn’t just relate, he pandered. He pandered unabashedly. There’s plenty of interpretations that indicate Shakespeare was putting in some subversive themes and suggestions between the lines, but that probably wasn’t what made his plays popular at the time. This isn’t to say that making things relatable is bad, but it shouldn’t the be-all and end-all goal of art. Art doesn’t have to play on the personally relatable to be emotional, or meaningful, or just plain interesting. The things that have made Shakespeare last are the broad sweeps, not the specifics. Plays like Angels in America and even the majority of Tennessee William’s work are captivating and powerful, but it’s not like we can say that the majority of people truly have experienced what is happening in these works. What makes many of these plays interesting is how they take topics that were not being talked about, that most people did not relate to, and talked about it anyway. I do not pretend to say I relate to the pain of an AIDS affected gay man, because that’s not who I am, but why should I need to relate to find the story interesting? Why should I need to relate to that experience to feel compassion? To try and boil down these experiences into relatability just further commercializes them. Consider bell hooks concept of eating the other: “where white individuals literally ‘consume’ images and representations of racialized others in order to feel pleasures. She claims that within this ideological structure, privileged white individuals act ‘on the assumption that the exploration into the world of difference, into the body of the Other, will provide a greater, more intense pleasure than any that exists in the ordinary world of one’s familiar racial group.'” (Critical Media Studies: An Introduction, 1st Edition, 145)

In his New York Times opinion piece To Vibrebrate: In Defense of Strangeness Johannes Göransson rejects Matthew Zapruder’s Claim that “superficial introduction of confusion is not how great poetry is made, nor how we’re brought closer to what is most difficult to say.”

Göransson writes:

Not all poems prioritize everyday language. Some poems value arguments and narrative above the experience of language. Sometimes poems have mystical meanings. Zapruder rejects reading poems as riddles, but some poems are indeed riddles. While Zapruder argues that students are turned off when poems are treated as riddles, I have found the opposite to be true. Often students love riddles: they create the sense that words may not mean what they are supposed to (thus flouting his maxim that “One of the great pleasures of reading poetry is to feel words mean what they usually do in everyday life”). Riddles create a sense of mystery.

To further frustrate Zapruder’s binary, the riddle, with its ‘hidden’ meaning, is often keenly language-driven. Poems can be gorgeous precisely in their riddle-like mystery….

Masks and “disguises” are fascinating, and they can also be politically volatile. Masks unsettle identity-based hierarchies: the king might really be a pauper. I think about Raúl Zurita’s Purgatorio (trans. Anna Deeny Morales), the opening of a decades-long poem of resistance to the 1973 Chilean coup. The sequence opens with an image of Zurita’s ID papers coupled with a little poem that asserts that he’s in fact not at all Zurita, but the sex worker Rachel: “my friends think / I’m a sick woman / because I burned my cheek,” he writes (in Deeny’s translation), literally masking or disguising the biographical fact that, upon being released from prison, Zurita burnt his own cheek—an action he took to overwrite/memorialize his torture at the hands of government thugs. This single couplet and its accompanying image wears many masks, many disguises, many disfigurements, many defacements.

There’s another politics at play in the demand for the “straightforward,” one that is personal to me. As an immigrant, I know how beautiful a foreign language can seem when it mingles with your “native” language, or when you only half understand it, or how certain words take on multilingual echoes (The sound of the English word “barn” in Swedish means “children”). The idea that poetry—or language in general—is ever “straightforward” seems impossible to my immigrant ears and eyes.

But I also know how incredibly political foreign languages are in the current moment. All over the U.S., conservative protests insist we need to speak “English only.” Why? Perhaps foreign languages act as “disguises.” We don’t know what those foreigners might be saying; perhaps they are plotting revolutions in those weird words. But I think the opposite is also true—what foreign ideas, languages, and syntaxes is the immigrant masking with their English? A foreigner can never be “straightforward.” There’s always another language mingling with the English, deforming it, transforming it, constantly shifting it. And vigilant people across the country guard against any accent, any slip-up as a sign of a foreign threat.

People love riddles, they love curiosities, they love unlocking patterns. Sometimes those patterns are those that are personable – the seemingly everyday moments of life we all cherish – other times those patterns are bizarre or inscrutable. Sometimes it is the very breaking of the everyday pattern that intrigues us. I do not subscribe to the belief that art should have “meaning,” but I also dislike that which is proclaimed to be “meaningless.” What I enjoy about art is its ability to be utterly unexpected even when it is being mundane or “personable.” I like that art can simply be interesting, relatable or not.

Manifestophilis: Experience, Survival, Violence

PH: You seem very concerned with the vagabond’s experience. The temptations of wandering, of homelessness, of the sins of, for lack of a better term, the lower class, or the classless.  

The Devil: Of course. That’s what I am: homeless. Cast out. The whole prodigal son story was made because Daddy wanted me to say ‘I’m sorry,’ but I won’t give him the satisfaction of saying he forgives me. I deal in the real muck of experiences. Drugs, pain, ecstasy, the distractions that prove we have the capacity to think.

PH: So you have no responsibility for the sins of the upper class?

TD: Not none. Never none. But that’s not really where my interests are. There’s an occasional collaboration between me and other sin … suppliers. Cocaine, uh, that’s a big one. Prostitution is pretty common across the board. But when it gets too corporate it gets, I dunno, stale?

PH: It doesn’t feel good?

TD: No. It. Like, I get greed when there’s some spite to it. Robbing a store you work for? I get that. But robbery to make more money while you’re sitting behind a desk with plenty of money already? What itch does that scratch? 

PH: But you think there’s a cathartic nature that can justify destruction?

TD: I think we need to acknowledge that life is a violent act, and some kinds of violence are static and some kinds of violence are kinetic.

PH: What do you mean by that? Static or kinetic?

TD: Living, real living, is like swimming in frozen water. You know you’re thrashing and pushing with your arms and kicking with your feet; but you also have that sinking fear that you’re already frozen solid, and it only dissipates when you see how the water is churning and the bubbles are flying. It’s that numbness where the only guarantee you have that you haven’t stopped is the movement of things around you. It’s what cats do. Cats understand that they can’t affirm their own existence by moving their paws or licking their fur, they need to push things over. They see that if that cup can fall off the edge because they exist then they must exist. Otherwise what force can act upon the cup? A kinetic violence is the acknowledgment that, to some degree, we must force ourselves on the world if we wish to justify our own presence. This means that there will never be a state of absolute freedom that is also fair, we will always engage in a battle between what I need to exist and what you need to exist. A static violence is when we live in a way that is passively destructive. By having what you have, someone must not have. So to live in a stable fashion where you accumulate more and more you are exist in a static lifestyle that is violent by its act of deprivation, and you probably don’t realize that it is violent. In kinetic violence you can at least acknowledge what you’re doing, and can even curtail its effects while you act it out, and let it change things. Static violence is blind to its own existence. 

PH: So we need to have the outside world to justify our own presence, even if our presence is inherently hostile.

TD: I wouldn’t even call it a justification, because whose the judge? It’s just the way things are. Things exist, and being in a headspace is entirely the wrong direction to prove that things exist. One should also keep in mind that kinetic violence isn’t universal, it can be very focused, and that allows for cooperation among people. 

PH: But also hierarchy.

TD: Certainly, as naturally violent creatures we are naturally hierarchical. Though I would say that true hierarchy usually develops once individuals with power realize they don’t need to use kinetic violence to maintain their will and simply stagnate into static violence. They let their underlings manage the dirty business where they don’t need to see it. 

PH: What is your opinion of humanity’s future?

TD: Fuck it.

PH: Really?

TD: Really! Fuck it! Fuck it all! What fucking good is it to try and save something that is everything? You want to know what the problem is? It’s not factories, it’s not greed, it’s not cars, it’s not any of that stuff because it is you! It’s the very human existence because this is the natural order of things. The concept of natural harmony where one species is in tune with what’s around it is garbage: anything that lives will do what it can to continue living, and will also work to spread its existence through reproduction. Anything that can spread, given an inch, will grow at the expense of anything that gets in its way. Ninety percent of the time, when the expansion begins to endanger the organism because of a lack of resources, the organism will die. It will kill itself, be devoured by something else, or move somewhere else.

PH: So those are the only options you’re saying we have?

TD: Basically, yes.

PH: What about the other 10% of the time?

TD: Well, if they realize what’s going on because another organism shows up and they begin to see the disruption of the environment around them, then maybe they have a chance. That’s what happened with the American Indians you know.

PH: When they encountered white settlers.

TD: Yes. The whole rhetoric that they were in-tune with nature with the way they lived is utter bullshit. It’s a romantic notion that utterly pacifies their culture. Everything doesn’t mean shit environmentally when the animal is still dead and you’re overhunting, and they were overhunting. White settlers didn’t starve just because they set up shop in a swamp and couldn’t farm the land, the game was scarce! It wasn’t there! And the addition of more people, more people trying to eat what was scarce, and making what was there migrate, that’s what made the indigenous people wake up and start giving a real damn. This is true in the Massachusetts’s Bay and it’s true in Hawaii. It’s true all across. 

PH: Is this likely to be the source of human extinction?

TD: Probably not true extinction. Not in the sense of *bam* you’re dead. Maybe over a really long period of time. Really, it’s more likely to be a culling than anything else. Small groups of human beings will survive where food is still naturally available and where urban infrastructure isn’t present. 

PH: You mentioned the “using every part of the buffalo” image, you say it still doesn’t work because it promotes the exhaustion of the animal resource itself.  Does that mean you support vegetarianism and veganism? 

TD: Not as a full ideology. Like, you just want to avoid eating meat? You think the animals are cute? Fine. More power to you. But is it going to change anything? No.

PH: Why not? Isn’t action the basis of change? If there’s no demand for those harmfully extracted resources then can’t we move to supplying less harmful resources?

TD: But given the current population, the cost of producing, preparing, and providing food, it doesn’t matter. Agriculture kills animals, it kills species, it pollutes. And don’t bullshit me with that community garden, commune, utopia crap because that’s not happening until people are forced to do it and people aren’t going to be forced to do it until most people are dead anyway. Right now, it doesn’t matter how many little gardens you make, no one solution exists for every kind of life that’s out there. Fresh produce is a practical and affordable solution to everyone’s dietary needs? No. It’s not. And guess what, most agriculture required to feed large groups of people is so destructive anyway that you are still an indirect murderer. Everyone is killing all the time anyway. If we want a solution the real answer is a nuclear cleansing: wipe out as much infrastructure as possible, render previous habitats unlivable, and decrease the population. 

PH: Do you agree with Ted Kaczynsky’s arguments and methodologies as put forward in Industrial Society and its Future?

TD: I know you’re going to get tired of hearing me say this, but yes and no. I would say that all of humanity’s contemporary problems stem mainly from the abundance of human beings. Of course, that’s probably the hardest pill to swallow: to accept that you need to kill yourself, to some extent, to save yourself. Amputate, I guess, a large segment of the population. What Kaczynski does well is his examination and dissection of what he calls the Leftist Psychology and its inability to come to legitimate solutions, however, I don’t necessarily think its effective to say that contemporary issues are solvable only by reverting to a supposed “natural state” of tribal life. If the human race can effectively halt its expansion while maintaining current infrastructure then it should continue its technological development. The issue is that we are in a state of too much need. The Left simultaneously argues that we think we need more than we do and that we need to provide more to meet the needs of individuals. Of course, the argument that its an issue of organization and priorities has legitimacy, but the cost of the solution is itself massive because of overpopulation. So if humanity cannot curtail its reproduction by its own will in a stable manner it must be forced to. Either it will happen via ecological reactions – disease, natural disasters, changing habitats, et cetera – or else it will have to fall to drastic, violent measures such as war, nuclear attacks, or the widespread destruction of urban habitats. 

PH: You use the term ecological reactions. Does this suggest something along the lines of Gaia theory?

TD: There are an infinite number of interconnecting patterns at play in any environment. It’s a mistake to think that these patterns are themselves a balance, or that they act with intention. When I say “reaction” I mean in the sense of a chemical reaction, rather than a social or emotional reaction. It is not the Earth as a body reacting, it is simply the consequences of limited resources. 

PH: So is technology necessarily anathema to human freedom?

TD: First off, I’m talking about survival, not freedom. These are entirely different, and it’s stupid to assume otherwise. Again, if we limit and diminish the human population then there’s no reason not to keep maintaining technological advancement. It’s the fact that we’ll need fewer resources that’s important. Perhaps technology can subjugate people’s freedoms, but that’s not really my concern to be honest. It will be just another thing for people to fight, and that’s my way of life. I’m not saying humanity has to try and survive. It’s entirely acceptable to choose to maintain freedom and live until you die off. Perfectly way to go. If you want to survive though, that requires a much higher body count.

Manifestophilis (Interviews With the Devil): The Future, Movements, Post-Scarcity

Patrick Higgins: In an attempt to move beyond this kind of poisoned postmodernism do you see any hope in other movements such as Neo-Futurism or New Sincerity? 

The Devil: Hope isn’t something I’m particularly comfortable with in general. That’s the real problem, because I do want to escape this postmodern swamp, but I’m not necessarily advocating for unconstrained hope or joy or love. I’m also suspicious of anything that labels itself as an instrument of progress. Now I don’t think that these movements are necessarily advocating this.

PH: They’re more limited in their interests.

TD: Yes, as a movement they’re more interested in promoting interest in certain subjects and feelings that have been shoved to the wayside, but like any movement this is only so good as the people involved. 

PH: So the followers of these collectives are going too far.

TD: It’s the common problem of any sort of movement like this, movements that don’t really have any specific center. They’re more felt-out than defined. So something that emerges to promote careful use of irony; to embrace unconstrained, legitimate emotion at the expense of cynicism – note that this means good and bad emotions – it becomes a den for a sort of pop-culture adrenaline junky. People who just constantly shut themselves off to certain parts of reality in favor of constant, hyped positivity and good feelings. 

PH: This mainly applies to the New Sincerity movement.

TD: Yes. The Neo-Futurists are certainly more stable, but I think they are also perhaps at risk of losing their control. Even if you’re trying to progress things in ways that are eco-friendly, efficient, and useful – who determines that? And what does it say that their movement is titled after a group that encouraged warfare and destruction in the pursuit of an abstract progress? No matter how much you want to escape that urge there’s something there. It’s the same problem with Left Accelerationism.

PH: By Left Accelerationism you are referring to the belief in anti-Capitalist revolution through overfeeding Capitalist foundations through automation and the like? 

TD: Yes, though again there’s so many different people forging so many definitions its hard to keep track of what Accelerationism means to one person compared to another. But the problem is, even if you keep feeding information and power into the system with the intent of breaking it down, what’s to stop other people from using that information separately for their own benefit? If you just throw out resources in an attempt to overfeed the system then anyone, including people who want to stop you, can take what you’re creating and remold it, redefine it, deconstruct it, keep building new machines in the system to handle this info-dump. 

PH: Be that as it may, it does seem like the current state of automation is creating the need for an alternative system of welfare and protection for individuals. As jobs disappear to machines we’re going to need some way to either put people back to work or admit that we need a system where the majority of people aren’t going to be able to engage in these kinds of jobs. 

TD: True, we may be heading that way, but I’m always cautious of Utopian rhetoric. Certainly artists would be ecstatic to live in a world where everything is automated to the point that anyone has the resources and time to pursue personal creative development, but then consider where that goes. Art is reaching increasing levels of automation too. And if you enter into a society that has no conflict, either external or internal, you’re going to lose a huge motivating factor for artistic development. Or any kind of development. 

PH: Would a post-scarcity, or post-capitalist society lack internal or external conflict do you think?

TD: I don’t think it would, but that’s my issue. Either you must admit that such a society will still engage in conflict, and it’s very likely that these conflicts will still be as devastating as they are today, or else you must set yourself up for a society of stagnation. 

PH: What do you think the major conflicts of such a society would be?

TD: First off, we need to realize that not every place in the world could just develop into this kind of culture and infrastructure a the same time. Let’s say that America became a post-Capitalist country. If that works out we could probably expect some other places with strong ties to us to follow suit eventually, like the UK, France, Germany, Canada. Allies really. But what about impoverished countries that cannot possibly automate this way? Are they just going to get pushed to the side, even more than they already are anyhow, or are we going to take it upon ourselves to impose our decisions onto these countries? Next up is the issue of specialization and energy. Even if basic needs are automated, you have the need for maintenance and the need for energy. So who’s maintaining this stuff? Either its privatized specialists or specialists employed by the collective or the government or what-have-you, and all it means is that a small group has enormous power over everyone else. Same case with energy. Where is it coming from? Even if its wind turbines or solar panels someone needs to install, build, design, those things. Finally, environmentalism and population issues. If the population keeps increasing, then even if we have automation, we’re fucked. Even if we have a clean cycle of automation where machines can somehow design, build, repair, and improve themselves, and let’s assume that they’re doing this without any semblance of self-aware intelligence, then all we’re doing is producing an infinitely expanding factory. Even if every product being produced is absolutely clean it would be destructive if the population doesn’t go down because industry would necessarily expand. 

PH: Is there no hope for a happy, stable humanity?

TD: Life has never been about happiness. Stop assuming you need it, stop assuming you deserve it, and stop assuming it’s the best thing to give to other people. There’s better ways to live and move forward. 

PH: Like what?

TD: I can’t tell you that, otherwise I wouldn’t be doing my job.