Reading Irishman Daniel Crawford’s tender, honest admission that abjection is once again the lot of the Irish after eight hundred years of training in the art, I can’t help but feel that we’re all Irish now, after eight hundred years and more of brainwashing ourselves to believe that leaders are necessary.
Sodomizers come and sodomizers go, but Crawford’s query is the perennial question of leaderville: should we offer them Vaseline?
The brave and good among us are brutalized by the leaders that democratists thought were a good idea to install. I can’t help but note the terrible irony that the late Jane Jacobs, whose views on cities and the environment are so similar to ours here at seewalk-the-ungooglable and whose views on leaderville are so different, championed a leader who was ‘leading’ our city when the brave Alex Hundert—to name just one of hundreds of people who have become political prisoners here in Egyptocanada since last June’s G20—was stuffed for five months into the Toronto West Detention Centre. Alex is out this week, but the architecture of the West, the architecture of Toronto West, the architecture of domination, remains.
This Toronto West is the troll building whose drooling maw lurks over the heads of any of us in west Toronto who believe in offering the slightest resistance to leaderville. Could Jane really not have foreseen this? It can only get worse. As I noted earlier, they’re building more and bigger dungeons with the name of Jane’s champion on them. Irony compounds irony.
Hundert’s crime was apparently that of allowing three Aboriginal women to use props at a talk he was organizing, which supposedly puts the gathering into some different, less protected category in the register of imperial justice. The technicality is so blatantly designed for a kangaroo court you wonder why they bother. For whom is the charade enacted?
Not for our people. Our people have been moving around this watershed by canoe for thousands of years, which is how we know they’re our people. We haven’t coincided with the empire on the notion of justice for half a millennium or more.
Last June we went for a stroll in our neighborhood and were hunted for hours by cavalry and footsoldiers hungry to smash our first-born with clubs. This after an earlier, more vicious assault on our younger child. We don’t follow leaders, but apparently twenty leaders of leaderville had come to town, which is I guess why everyone was going around saying ‘G20’, and a thousand troops for every leader came along to kick the shit out of us locals and our children: the G20,000. Like most Toronto liberals, my yoga teacher was excited and pleased by such a display of power, this potlatch consuming more than a billion bucks in one orgy of state-sponsored violence. But we say to the cowards in the armor with their nametags hidden: anytime you guys want to meet us for a fair fight with no backup, and without your little hosts of lawyers and politicians and judges and bureaucrats and patsy wagons tagging along behind, let us know. No attacking children this time. No fancy armament. We’ll just get it on upon a field argent. Survivors go for a beer afterwards.
The funny thing, and I’ve mentioned this before, is that after getting beaten by democracy, so many of us limping from the fray shouted, “give us more democracy,” like we hadn’t just seen what democracy was all about. My fourteen-year-old and I were already in fourth-level irony when we found out that at the moment we were attacked we had strayed into a free-speech zone, and even I couldn’t manage the sudden spike in ironic overkill. Folks on our team running around getting trampled by the horses’ hoofs and yelling, “this is the Canadian charter of rights?”
What did we expect? We liberals and progressives ask for more and we vote for more because for at least the eight hundred years since the Magna Charta, the bootlickers’ charter, we’ve wanted wealthy white male landowners to sodomize us over and over, and we want to genuflect to them and lick their boots and tell them that yes they’re so the boss. That’s the yeoman patrimony of the West. It’s called democracy. Gee, one boss? Gee, twenty? I’m so excited.
Is that vassal lean? asks the fat boss. T’is, t’is, says the Irishman. Democracy is vassalage, and Vaseline greases the works.
People count themselves tremendously practical and farsighted if they believe in bosses who can tell the rest of us to plant our fields and bring a tithe or two up to the big house whenever the big man needs it.
Democracy is the act of cutting your own switch. The titillation of bending over for hope and change.
The Charta was called “great” not just because its pronunciation anticipated a New England Boston accent of the 21st century (think Matt Damon on words that end in –er) and not just because it consolidated the power of the barons, but because regular stiffs got to call themselves “freemen” if they agreed to be enslaved to the barons. Lately we’ve counted it as progress that we’ve stuck a few browns and women in to spell the white men so that we could carry on licking the hosiery like nobody’s business. Let your tongue slide from one Clint’n to the next, like letting the tongue slide from the syllables of baron to bankster.
Democracy is the tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon, in which we can’t quite remember why we love the boot.
Well, at least there’s finally some good news from that Nile watershed, eh? Even a practitioner of disciplined inattention like me has noticed that something’s happening over there. Autumn of some douchebag patriarch shading to outright winter, sounds like. The usual rendition flights leaving every midnight from Europe and America slowing down for a bit, giving the torturers a little chance to catch their breath. But in the midst of the excitement you hear even leftists saying the daftist things, like “we should support the peaceful transfer of power.”
No we shouldn’t. If you think sending your power elsewhere is such a great thing, maybe you should stop thinking of yourself as a leftist. Power shouldn’t be transferred. It should stay in the community. We of the party sinistra have always noted that slavishness and abjection (the basic power transfer) are the central presuppositions of the right. A few people get to trick some kind of majority into licking its boots in the name of freedom, there is a rape, and the morning after the rape the victim cries out for more. Care for another rape?
No thanks. We’re good.
We are the masterless men of old, loosed from serfdom as collateral damage from sixteenth-century enclosure in England and elsewhere. We are the ranters, diggers, levelers, and other unsavory characters that Puritan mothers warned you about, the nasty things hidden in the groves and hedgerows and roused to vigor even as proto-capital and its monster child were disturbed from their slumbers. We are the three billion people or more who don’t vote, who don’t ratify the system. Our need for food isn’t some abstract dilettante political thing, but event one every day, and if we have a politics it is to stop the people who are messing with our water and food supply. Leaderville’s attacks on the water and food are relentless, yet we offer them no Vaseline for their depredations.
Vijay Prashad and Pothik Ghosh over at Radical Notes provide an excellent assessment of events in Egypt and attempt to connect the dots with other important flashpoints in the revolutionary struggle (kudos to CP for connecting to Radical a couple of days ago), and I hope they will not take it amiss that I note with uneasiness their reproof of Western intellectuals who pin utopian hopes to such movements. Such theorists, for Prashad and Ghosh, are being “vicarious.” It’s a painful dig, if it sticks. Should it?
We should understand that Prashad—and here I trust that my readers who follow me for the rock and roll, free love, and glamour of street life will stay with me— is working from a Gramscian tradition that valorizes the “national-popular” as a significant target of inquiry. Edward Said is sometimes in this line, and every day I’m out here kicking the quarter-panels on cars in the tradition of Said throwing rocks and writing Orientalism, the thumb on the five fingers of books you most need to read or pretend you have.
The trick, once you’ve analyzed the national-popular, is to let it wither away. The great tradition of muck-raking (CounterPunch, say) and kick-ass French theorizing (Badiou, say) will become distracted by its own success if it mistakes the importance of its project—dispelling leaders—for the importance of its subject, leaders tout simple. Leaders are not important. Nationalisms are important only to the extent that we note and rejoice in their passing. Leaders are, to deploy the French theoretical term, a bunch of douches.
People are willing to pay you as a mildly leftist journalist or academic if you’re willing to wag your tongue at length about the importance of leaders. The smart writer Susan Buck-Morss, who should know better, was here on campus yesterday sounding vaguely remorseful and confused about why she still voted, and voted in America. Why does she continue to support the national-popular?
While their work is otherwise unimpeachable, Prashad and Ghosh fall into the mistake I call ‘vicarious atonement’, of hinting that Western intellectuals should pay for their long history of not having enough education in the leaders of the global south or pan-Arab alliances. This is the kind of whoopsie-daisy that found the European working class, with its common interest in food, shelter, and beer, staring at each other from nearby trenches in 1914 and experiencing serious shortages of lager.
The European—and world—working classes of 1914 needed to know less about each other’s national-popular movements, not more. Here in global nowtopia we are not being vicarious when we express interest in all the rivers of the world, in the capacity of all people to find local food in a way that will not muck up the water. We do not recognize nationalist regions and we do not think of ourselves as being vicarious for having an interest in this Nile, for example, right here on our planet. It’s not a watershed that we on the Humber and the Don know anything about, but the instinct to get food and keep the water clean and get rid of big dams is right here in our planet neighborhood.
DAVID Ker THOMSON was conceived in ‘Mexico’, bourne in Texas, born in ‘Canada’, swaddled in a trailer, and raised in Jesus. He is the son of a pulp-and paper log roller and dynamite specialist. He went on the road at sixteen and hitch-hiked thirty-five thousand miles before he was twenty. He has trained as a gravedigger and semiotician. His people have been canoeing Turtle Island watersheds for at least ten thousand years, five thousand of them in parts of what came to be known as ‘Canada’. firstname.lastname@example.org