A Whole Foods moved into my neighborhood a few years ago. It’s right near my boy’s school, to boot. But I hate Whole Foods. I hate it on principle for being a big, global, corporate demon hell bent on greed, indifferent to local business but who still has the gall and gumption to act like a so called good citizen. There’s even a sign outside this one that says, Buy Local. I shit you not! It’s one of the strangest, most explicit examples of outright falsity and manipulation I’ve ever seen in this bewildering spectacle of 21st century San Francisco and America. Just thinking about it fills me with rage. The poor butcher down the street who’s been there for decades and actually is local and who sells local goods, is being mercilessly driven out of business. It pisses my shit off.
I also happen to loathe Whole Foods aesthetically and practically. Their produce is crappy, old, withering and dying within days. When I buy produce from my local market who buys their produce from local farms, the lettuce lasts forever — and tastes better. The fish at Whole Foods all seems to come from other countries. Why would I buy shrimp from Thailand when I can buy shrimp from the Gulf down the street?
Still, once in a while, I do pop into this corporate hell hole with my boy to grab a snack or something for dinner. Sue me.
I could no doubt boycott the place completely. Which, needless to say, makes no impact on them but does on me. It spares me the humiliation of going in there and having to walk out with a branded bag so I can continue to advertise for them. Oy! And boycotting also creates a pain in the ass for me as then I have to drive and park again to go to my butcher, then my grocer, all the while my boy is getting hungrier.
Living by principle is something we seem to respect as a culture. But not me. I don’t respect it. Living by principle is living by fixed abstractions while I am a living, breathing, changing system. Why would I ever want to be tethered to a principle? Eeesh!
And yet I do believe in certain things. I like local business. I like giving my money to the person who will use said money to pay his rent, feed his kids. Giving money to a clerk who makes minimum wage so some fat cat who lives on his own island can blow more lines doesn’t feel good to me.
Does this mean I position myself against the corporate behemoths? Well, I don’t want to live againstanything. I want to live for me, for a beautiful, thriving world around me. Occasionally, I do need not to do something but I try to channel that No saying into a Yes saying to me and my world. No to Whole Foods is Yes to Drewes Meats which is Yes to the world I want to live in.
Anyway, it’s impossible to live against or outside the reigning power structure. That’s not how power works. It doesn’t come from above or even from outside of me. I am constitutive of power. It flows through me and comes from me. I am as much its agent as its subject. The very ways in which I think about myself — as male, sexual, parent, father, worker, human being — have all been told to me, bred in me, of me. Power is a way of thinking and speaking. I perpetuate power at the same time, in the same breath, that I negotiate it, recast it, appropriate it.
We don’t live for or against power as much as we live with power. It’s an endless process of negotiating my desires, my ideas, how I impact the world around me, what I want from other people. It involves a relentless questioning of my assumptions: Why do I feel this or that way? Is it just a knee jerk reaction — Big companies are bad! — or something that really affects how I feel day to day, moment to moment?
The thing that’s always driven me apeshit about so called liberals is that they assume that what they assume is just plain old right. Oh, man, maybe I just wish I could be like that rather than always questioning what drives my beliefs, my actions, my desires.
On the other hand, I enjoy this interrogation, this act of exploration and questioning. In fact, I’m less interested in the outcome than I am in the very act of interrogating my beliefs. Why do I go or not go to Whole Foods? Why do I feel this way about marriage, couples, sex? Why do I feel guilty or not about this or that parenting I do? I love when I come upon something that I’ve always just assumed but is now ripe for interrogation. As of late, my 10 year old son is obsessed with aliens. And that’s not something I’ve ever really thought about, not in any demanding way. It’s been such a pleasure to talk with him and, together, figure out what we even mean by alien. As he said to me, we’re all aliens as we can never really know each other.
Unfortunately, to those who don’t interrogate, my interrogation sounds like rejection. I don’t believe marriage is a necessary good or even necessary step. However, this doesn’t mean I believe marriage is necessarily bad. It all depends. But my questioning gets read as rejection — my negotiating with power is interpreted as working against it. Which is not right. There are not many things I am against per se. Well, maybe Illinois Nazis — and blind assumptions.
The other day, I was sitting with some co-workers (sort of) and we were discussing local teams. And I suddenly found myself speaking rather ardently against the logic of fandom, my pleasure in watching sports, and my disdain for the high-five and its implied complicity within a structure of fandom and masculinity that rubbed me the wrong way (I love that phrase). To me, my rant seemed so, well, obvious — banal, even. They all looked uncomfortable, turned away, and restarted their discussion about the local football team. Of course you love a team! Or else you don’t like sports, which is ok, too. But land somewhere else and you’re off the map all together. Foucault called this being “outside the true,” outside what can be recognized as an utterance within the language game at hand.
Now, am I assuming this kind of critical inquiry? Is that my ideology? I suppose so, yes. I believe it’s the way to negotiate power rather than just perpetuating power’s worst traits (such as the demands of marriage, career, home owning, child rearing, fandom, and so on). I believe critique to be an essential component of not only a so-called healthy society but a more interesting society. I tend to like people who question rather than assume; I prefer ironists to the serious, tricksters to bigots.
Does this make me a critique bigot? Maybe. But I understand that there are some people for whom critique is painful; it runs against their metabolic health. I remember doing a Q&A with PT Anderson and asking him about his collaboration with Jeremy Blake on Punch Drunk Love. I asked some complex, elaborate question about the relationship between affect and character. He just looks at me like I’m an idiot — or maybe an alien — and says something like, I just thought it looked cool. Which is the best possible answer to my babbling query. Negotiating with is not really a principle; it’s an operation and not one that suits everyone equally.
We make decisions all day every day, at every turn. We balance our ideas, concepts, needs, desires, beliefs into an impossible calculus that results in buying or not buying some Starfucks espresso; telling my son that he’ll never own a hand held gaming device because it steals souls and, no, I don’t care that every single one of his friends owns one; asking your sweetie to move in, to marry you, to have a child with you; watching “The Wire” or “American Idol.” We don’t live as minions for principles or agents of the state or even agents of change. We live as we live, with power, with the world.