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Damien in LA

As Namaste as I Wanna Be

by DAN De LEON

I moved to LA last year but I’m a little out of place here. I’m not used to being around so many peaceable people and they’re not used to fire and brimstone animal liberation. Animal activists in Ohio (where I’m from) have some things in common with our opponents: we often have farms, horses, pick up trucks and guns and we believe hunters, trappers, animal farmers and vivisectors can stop sinning or they can get the fuck off the planet. We don’t believe in giving them their “space” or any other thing they don’t deserve. (Talking about pick up trucks: I was on a hike recently and a young tattooed vegan woman shocked a group of four cylinder vegans and vegetarians by saying that she drove a pick up truck. An egg-sucking, dairy-swilling mere vegetarian guy finally said what had to be said, “Oh, my God, what do you need a pick up truck for?!” “To haul my dirt bike,” she replied.)

LA is a different matter. LA is a very Buddhist kind of city. Buddha was known for saying incredible things like: “May all that have life be delivered from suffering.” Or: “Now may everything, young or old, weak or strong, near or far, known or unknown, living or departed, or as yet unborn, may everything be poleaxed and have its throat slit or be sliced up alive in the blades of macerating machines or burned to death in scalding water while fully conscious” (I’m paraphrasing here) — and then you have to keep in mind that he most likely died of eating tainted pork. He was probably the Obuddha of his day. The Dalai Lama and his adherents are also very strong in LA and I was flummoxed a long time ago when I learned that he was not a vegetarian. There are hundreds of millions of vegetarians and vegans in the world but the Dalai Lama doesn’t have the discipline and intellectual integrity to refrain from eating the objects of his compassion? Dalailamayamamamadingdong fail.

(I prefer Dostoyevsky to Buddha: “Love animals: God has given them the rudiments of thought and joy untroubled. Do not trouble their joy, do not harass them, do not deprive them of their happiness, do not work against God’s intent. Man, do not pride yourself on your superiority to animals: they are without sin, and you, with your greatness, defile the earth by your appearance on it, and leave the traces of your foulness after you.” The Brothers Karamazov.)

LA likes the idea of compassion and feels that liking it is pretty much the same as living it. LA compassion is good enough for government work — especially if the “job” done on the serfs is by Dumbocrats. It’s a Facebook kind of life/like. It’s the distinction between Democrat and Republican politicians. Republicans slit the working class throat and feel great about it — they wish we had more throats. Democrats slit our throats but pretend, Obuddhists that they are, that our throats are not really slit or that they suffered more by slitting our throats than we did. Or that it hurt us a lot less because they did it, instead of Dick Cheney. Or that we’re just too damned “attached” to our throats. The Dumbocrats don’t feel any urgency about tens of millions of people unemployed, without healthcare, scraping by on food stamps and food banks, or homeless. Maybe next incarnation we’ll come back as Cubans and have free education and healthcare.

I’ve rarely seen as much free work and labor given away by the working class as in LA, either on the hope of “hitting it big” or simply sacrificing everything to stay in the climate — of wild fires, earthquakes, mudslides, drought, riots and 12 percent unemployment. Nearly everyone I meet is hanging on by the skin of their teeth. If they once had good jobs, stable finances and autonomous lives, all of it went away due to off-shoring, automation, popped asset bubbles and various busted schemes and dreams. If they had them to begin with, they raided their pension plans and drained equity from their houses (where they now often rent out rooms to strangers) to cope with joblessness, medical bills and simple living expenses. Strengthening and increasing Social Security or laws for cleaner air and water and safer food — for a nation of non-rebellious useless eaters too broke to consume and not needed to produce — is the craziest thing that the capitalist class ever heard of.

(The current depression doesn’t seem to lead to thrift — like the Great Depression’s effect on my grandparents — it seems to lead to more desperate gambling. If anyone thinks this isn’t a depression they weren’t paying attention to June’s non-farm payrolls: an all-time high 92 million Americans are not in the labor force, an increase of 12.8 million since December of 2007. The “recovery” is a holding period where militarized local police forces and a totalitarian surveillance state are being fine-tuned for an uprising by a maddeningly slow-ass American working class. After another decade or two of Chinese wages most Americans won’t even know that there was something to “recover.” Every memory and experience will be of serfdom.)

It’s often very difficult to get to the bottom of what people in LA do for money because you have to sort through the cornucopia of yoga instructors, life coaches, personal trainers, “healers,” marketing consultants and motivational speakers that no one I know ever uses. They’re living but you don’t have a clue as to how they’re doing it. In a normal big city nearly everyone is on the take but out here, maybe because they were too stoned to hear it right, everyone is on the make, trying to convince you that they’re something that they aren’t. Everybody is always something else. The job of psychic/card reader is more easily understood than many. It’s not clear how 900,000 models and actresses, 1.8 million professional photographers and two billion massage therapists and nail trimmers make a living in a city of 3.9 million people.

LA’s the kind of place where the Animal Advocacy Museum can move from a Unitarian church in Pasadena to a much better location inside a former strip club on Ventura Boulevard. A month ago on grand opening night, while 150 people downstairs listened to speeches about the future of the animal rights movement, a couple friends and I checked out the upstairs and happily found a quiet room behind French doors filled with mirrored walls, plush white couches and three poles still up and running for pole dances. Mike immediately flung himself at one and was upside down and spinning before his wife, Tara, or I could get out our camera phones. We learned something new that night: the pole isn’t slippery, the entire pole is a floor to ceiling cylinder that spins around internal floor and ceiling mounts. New daring PETA campaign for the next thirty years: “I’d rather be pole dancing than touch meat with a ten foot pole!”

Another LA lesson learned is that there’s no white line fever because there’s no antiquated white lines. The freeway lanes are all marked with bread crumbs and bird shit. Find your path at 80 miles an hour, grasshopper! Angelenos fret about things like “Carmageddon” — even Hitler’s angry about it in a Downfall parody – but what anybody from the midwest or northeast notices about driving out here is that there’s perfect driving conditions — there’s no snow, ice or rain. Angelenos talk about needing rain but if you saw how they behave when they get it you know that they don’t mean it. At the first few sprinkles, people start taking off work early lest it “rain harder,” parties are canceled, shopping stops and, in contrast to the midwest where each snow storm means store shelves are cleared of bread, milk and eggs — that white light and tunnel jolt to the Buckeye brain that says: last meal on Earthmust eat French toast – the freaks where I’m currently living think comfort food is kombucha, kale chips and cocaine.

And I’m no better about sacrificing everything to stay in the climate. In February it was 84 degrees and sunny and I already can’t imagine living anywhere else. Ohio, stop your insane attachment to seasons! It’s not working! You have one season and it’s called crap! It’s cold from October through April, followed by several weeks of rain, flooding and tornados, two weeks in May or June (never both) when it’s 70 and sunny followed by three months of 90 degree temperatures with 100% humidity, culminating in the drought and burnt grass of August — and the only thing that makes it bearable is knowing that Chicago has it worse. Then nature deals out the September joker — “Look at all the purty colors! I wish it was like this all year round!” — before the hammer of winter falls again. In the fall, every shimmering red, yellow and orange leaf is screaming: “We’re going to die very soon — you’re going to die for the next six months! Move your fucking asses now while you have the chance!” (That’s how the deciduous rabble talks.)

And there are jobs here. I was unemployed for awhile and discovered that I could have plenty of jobs: poisoning animals for big pharma, poisoning animals in your home (pest control) or poisoning international law and relations by building components for drones — although the drone boom probably still didn’t make up for the fluffer exodus from Silicone Valley to Las Vegas. Even Craigslist will chasten the job-seeker: I was unqualified for a nine dollar an hour job at a sex toy warehouse because I’m not bilingual. Is there any enterprising university or government entity that could “help” me with $30,000 in loans to be a dildo stuffer in Canoga Park?

I meet a lot of vegans in LA, especially young vegans. Sometimes when people are new to veganism, they think vegans are wholly unlike meat eaters even though five seconds before becoming vegan we “were” those people. What I tell them is: vegans will break your heart, steal the money and bore you to tears just like anybody else. We’re doing one positive thing and it’s positive in a number of ways. We’re breaking the species barrier while living in the midst of barbarians, at least in regard as to how they treat non-human beings. As Isaac Bashevis Singer said, “In relation to animals, all men are Nazis. For the animals, it is an eternal Treblinka.” Fellow vegans, don’t let the 99% think that their actions are acceptable or that justice has to be a slow train — learn the difference between resistance (which costs sonofabitches blood or money) and activism (which plays by rules set by the murderous ruling class and says that it’s acceptable to wait forever for that train.)

Sometimes I’m asked if I would ever eat an animal if my life depended on it. Of course, our lives and good health depend more on not eating animals — but I understand the “lifeboat” that tiny minds insist that we paddle up shit creek. Instead of the ticking terrorist time bomb we get the ticking “lifeboat” quasi-cannibal bomb or (with vivisection) the tick-filled “your-dog-or-your-baby” bomb. These “bombs” never go off — they’re not designed to. The people asking these questions aren’t interested in a better world — they’re interested in continuing their oppressive/profitable/comfortable ways. Their purpose is censorship and to stop thinking and, more importantly, to stop feeling. Their purpose is to buttress an unjust status quo. I think Hannah Arendt answered this question, indirectly, when she wrote of the Germans who would not go along with the Nazis:

“They asked themselves to what extent they would still be able to live in peace with themselves after having committed certain deeds; and they decided that it would be better to do nothing, not because the world would then be changed for the better, but simply because only on this condition could they go on living with themselves at all. Hence, they also chose to die when they were forced to participate. To put it crudely, they refused to murder, not so much because they still held fast to the command ‘Thou shalt not kill,’ but because they were unwilling to live together with a murderer — themselves. The precondition for this kind of judging is not a highly developed intelligence or sophistication in moral matters, but rather the disposition to live together explicitly with oneself, to have intercourse with oneself, that is, to be engaged in that silent dialogue between me and myself which, since Socrates and Plato, we usually call thinking.

This kind of thinking, though at the root of all philosophical thought, is not technical and does not concern theoretical problems. The dividing line between those who want to think and therefore have to judge by themselves, and those who do not, strikes across all social and cultural or educational differences. In this respect, the total moral collapse of respectable society during the Hitler regime may teach us that under such circumstances those who cherish values and hold fast to moral norms and standards are not reliable: we now know that moral norms and standards can be changed overnight, and that all that then will be left is the mere habit of holding fast to something. Much more reliable will be the doubters and skeptics, not because skepticism is good or doubting wholesome, but because they are used to examine things and to make up their own minds. Best of all will be those who know only one thing for certain: that whatever else happens, as long as we live we shall have to live together with ourselves.” (“Personal Responsibility Under Dictatorship,” from Responsibility and Judgment. Thanks to Arthur Silber for drawing my attention to this quote.)

We almost saw a popular culture display of this at the end of The Hunger Games movie where the two adolescents were ready to die rather than kill each other, although the filmmakers copped out by letting the totalitarian state give a nonsensical break to the two to live another day — and for a sequel. That’s the corruption of money that waters down art. That’s the happy ending that tells us that all’s basically right in the world of the American Empire — it’s still redeemable, keep hanging in there.

Bullshit. Because what it means to effectively stand up to American capitalism is that you get killed for it. That’s the ultimate freedom we have in America. That’s how we know that Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Karen Silkwood, Salvador Allende, Che and Patrice Lumumba and innumerable others were effective and on the right path. Capitalism can’t live with inspirations like King, Malcolm X, Silkwood, Allende, Che or Lumumba. Capitalism, i.e., the daily robbery of the working class at work, can’t live with justice, equality, humaneness or moral courage, it must destroy them. The tyranny of wealth will show every soul in due time that there is no Bill of Rights, no freedom, no democracy, no rule of law, no privacy and no limitations on the government and its agents. Capitalism — kill it or be killed by it.

Well, I see I’ve digressed, but one last thing, speaking as a cat person: LA woman, it’s not the right kind of icebreaker, on an eight mile singles hike, to bring your crazed Devil-dog from hell, your 130 pound Rottweiler with you. Save it for when Damien of The Omenneeds to set loose 500 Rottweilers inside LA’s happening Cafe Gratitude because he and his party of 15 just spent twenty minutes trying to figure out the bill because the vegan pizza, falafel and BLTs, etc. all have names like Happiness, Practicality and Motherfucking Joy. You’ll know Damien when he comes to LA: he’ll be sitting in the lotus position while driving a Lotus five miles an hour down the 405 with the rest of us bumper-to-bumper schlubbs. Namaste.

Dan De Leon loves watching the Big Orange Bastard go down into the Big Blue Bastard.