The conditions of modern life — at least in the US, at least in San Francisco, at least for me — have become untenable. Or, to use a much used phrase, unsustainable: the demands of life are eliminating life. As I’ve argued elsewhere, the shortsighted consumption of fossil fuels — and the general pillaging of the planet — is not the primary resource that’s running dry: it’s human vitality.
But rather than enumerate the ills once again, I thought I’d give the question of resistance a shot.
So what are we to do? Or, more selfishly, what am I to do? Capitalism — and its police state — have become so smart and so fast, folding all modes of resistance into its spectacle at near infinite speed — John Lennon’s “Instant Karma” is in a Chase ad, for god’s sake. Corporations like Google, Apple, and Nike have made it seem cool to work endless days for enormous, soulless global beasts. It’s unnerving.
But we can’t just take off for the hills, anymore, as the hills have all been bought. Sure, there are remnants of this country where perhaps one can live inexpensively and enjoy the basic pleasures of life — slow food, slow sex, slow thinking, peace and health. But thanks to landgrabs and satellites, there is really no “off the grid” anymore.
My brother left NYC for Thailand 7 years ago. I don’t think he’s coming back.
Have y’all seen the film, Surfwise? This dude, back in the 50s, breeds like a madman and takes his whole enormous family off the grid, setting up camp on different beaches and surfing. No school, no house, working only when he needed to to have a little money. It’s inspiring. But all I kept thinking is: try that today and you’d be in jail and your kids taken away.
So if we can’t just head to the hills, what are we to do?
Well, first and foremost, I’d say: don’t breed. Having kids adds a complexity — financial, legal, and emotional — that makes slipping into the cracks of life difficult. Could I pack up my little beast, find some quiet spot in the middle of the desert, and home school him while living on rice and beans? Sure, I probably could. But I don’t have the courage for that. Nor do I have the appetite.
So, once again, what is one to do?
In The Practice of Everyday Life, Michel de Certeau talks about various kinds of ruses, most notably, one he calls la perruque (the wig): you work for the Man but use His resources for your own purposes. So you sit at your computer looking like you’re working but you’re really writing your novel and running your porn site. That is, you dissimulate and, behind your mask, you find your enjoyment, your vitality, your profits.
I believe there are little things one can do everyday, little ways to jam the bullshit circuit. These may seem trivial — and in many ways they are trivial — but they are the little things I do to foment a little revolution around me.
I try to drive generously. That is, I don’t assume I’m the only one on the road who matters, the only one in a rush. I let people into my lane who need in. I don’t floor it through yellow lights. And in this exceedingly small way, I try to make life a little better. For, jesus fucking christ, the utter lack of civility people show on the roads is unsettling. And I hope that by introducing a little civility, I may alter the flow of traffic, the flow of the day, the flow of life, even if only a little. Try it. Let’s start the civil driving revolution and see if it makes life in general more civil.
I try to jam the cliche circuits in conversations with whomever crosses my path — barristas, neighbors, fellow drunks at the bar. That is, the media creates a creepy uniformity of how we talk about things, a discourse that controls and limits our thinking. Was that movie good or bad? Are you a red state or a blue state? All that shit is built on stupidity and the violence of opposition. And so I actively refuse those terms and try to introduce different terms. Rather than saying whether I liked or didn’t like a movie, I’ll say what I thought was interesting or not about it, formally and emotively. Or I’ll introduce an aesthetic claim into a moral discussion — “I think so-and-so is cool looking.”
I know, I know: trivial, useless. And the fact is all this usually does is make people hate me. There’s a reason my phone never, ever, rings — except when my mother calls.
But my hope is that I can introduce slightly different ways of talking about things, at least in my own community, at least for the people I speak to. Because the fact is I find talking to people exhausting — I have to give so many caveats and qualifiers before I get to my point that I’ve lost my audience before I got there. Wouldn’t it be nice — wouldn’t it be revolutionary — if in everyday conversation people expected independent thought, new ways of approaching things rather than confirmation of the same old bullshit?
I know there are more radical, systemic modes of resistance. There are communes. There are urban communities where people support each other, take turns bearing the financial duties. There are Mike Reynolds’ Earth Ships: self-sustainable homes, homes that are literally unplugged, using solar for its electricity and heat, rainwater for its water, a greenhouse for growing food. How do we take this “biotecture” to the city? Or do we have to leave the city?
I am not offering answers because, obviously, I just don’t have any. Do you? Tell me, please.