A Coffeehouse Hallucination: The Anti-American Dream Dream

Dedicated to Cafe Domenico’s 16th  Anniversary.

I thought it idiotic that people fighting for their lives should have separate parties; my attitude was, ‘Why can’t we drop all this political nonsense and get on with the war?  This of course was the correct “anti-Fascist” attitude which had been carefully disseminated by the English newspapers, largely in order to prevent people from grasping the real (i.e., revolutionary) nature of the struggle.

— George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia

The reason why an ingenious soul shuns society, is to the end of finding society. It repudiates the false, out of love of the true.

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

Just as anarchism today needs to overcome and shed its historical worship of “Progress,” so, too…it might benefit by loosening up n its 19thcentury atheism and reconsidering the possibility…of an “anarchist religion.”

— Peter Lamborn Wilson, Anarchist Religion?

The late comedian Barry Crimmins it turns out came from Skaneateles, an affluent town on a lake having that name, about an hour west of Utica, that famously became home to Bill and (Senator) Hillary Clinton.  In the film made about him, Call Me Lucky, he delivers a one-liner that my husband and I, in our alternate reality of “armpit” Utica,  found hilarious. Though the joke may lack something taken out of context, it was, “Skaneateles is an Indian word that means beautiful water surrounded by Fascists.”

The first reaction was shock! Did he say what I thought he said? Is he being outrageously unfair to that lovely community?  But no, our spontaneous laughter was the evidence;  the joke is funny because we already know it is true.  The bourgeois American Dream is on its underside, fascist. It depends upon a basis of belief that we deserve what we have and those who have not clearly have not because they deserve not to have! No one but one of our blessedly truth-speaking prophetic comedians would or could say it so bluntly.  Few, even those of us who laugh,  may be able to understand why this is true.

Re-reading Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia recently, I was struck by Orwell’s account of his slow realization during his time with the militia in Spain;  his simplistic (though admirable) English-bred anti-fascism prevented his seeing what the war was really about, to see, that is, the heart of the matter.   At first the cause for fighting appeared simple:  the threat of Franco’s fascism.  He could not, at first, see the “pointless” divisions among the republicans corresponded, in effect, to  the different degrees of loyalty to the cause of the workers, i.e., to the inherently revolutionary vision of freedom and dignity for all people.  Moreover, he was to learn that the ways of compromise and the willingness to sell out the vision of a greater unity were/are many and are often disguised even from those who consider themselves progressive and informed observers.  Today, in liberal America, rising fascism is deplored but inside the One Neoliberal Bourgeois reality the visionof a greater unityno longer exists. I say “the vision,” because the only one that can move people to joyfully sacrifice everything for it is the dream of  unity “guaranteed” by means of its reality in spiritual experience.  By liberal progressive consensus, including even I suppose former acid droppers and peyote smokers, yoga practitioners and Buddhists, who should know better, the spiritual is not real enough to “sacrifice everything for;” thus vision is ruled out of liberal talking points.

In this context, it bothers me that the words tribalor tribalismwhich connote alternative cultural understandings of reality and knowledge, are used today to denote the divisiveness that we see  being fanned and exploited by corporate media.  On the contrary, tribal unity may work well to name, for our times, that unity of the anarchist dream that inspired the Spanish revolution. (I for one, long for my tribe; even as I begin to see sparks from its light emerging here in Utica out of the awful dark.)

With its participation mystique, as Dr. Jung referred to it, the tribe suggests a different kind of small-scale, de-centralized but universally-grounded, “pagan” unity, a unity possible for those who grasp “the real nature of the struggle.”  Such a  unity isaptly called “mystical.” However, the fact that such a tribal unity might have an esoteric basis doesn’t make it off limits to ordinary people; rather, it’s attainable by everyone. More importantly, its spiritual nature provides the only means to achieve a non-spurious unity on the left; i.e., one that doesn’t depend for its singleness of purpose on non-negotiable superiority to right wing religiosity, conservatism and dumbness, i.e., failure to see the rightness of cherished liberal assumptions.

The Iroquois, indigenous to the Mohawk Valley region where I live, are renowned for their unification of 5, later 6, historically warring tribes. This union made them formidable opponents in their time and “players” at the table of the empire builders.  The league was originally achieved  through the competence of the prophet, called the Peacemaker, in promoting his vision of peace among the constantly warring tribes. But the peace vision included and was maintained by means of shared rituals of “mourning,” of openly confessing those matters weighing upon individual souls that would prevent their full and conscious participation in the affairs of the tribal council.  The observance of these rituals made peace actual, not merely a word.  From where we stand today in the absence of binding myth, in our ignorance of our indigenous depths, and our increasing incapacity for unity among differences, such understandings and practices must be seen not as “primitive,” but a kind of vanguard of consciousness, the achievable unity of anarchism.

Genuine oneness, the oneness of vision,  is and will always be perennially attainable for groups in which individuals can practice the necessary humility of confession; in our modern case, this might be to confess  the full sorrow of living under alienating conditions of bureaucracy and technocracy, of the loss of soul-supporting community and stable family ties, of our villages, towns and cities, once places, now sacrificed to make way for corporate chainstore boxes and other profit-driven dreams, of the full scale assault on our humanity, as well as on our Mother the earth.

In my experience, these sorrows will not be confessed today among the majority on the white liberal left.  Instead, there is a mighty and ongoing and unacknowledged consensus to “soldier on” that  obstructs the achievement of a greater, truer and truly revolutionary (anti-authoritarian)unity.

Although theoretically attainable to everyone, many are the ways  of keeping anarchist – that is genuine, positive non-defensive – unity limited to a miniscule minority. At a recent weekend among beloved relatives at a family reunion in the Finger Lakes region a cousin-in-law, referring to the unusual depth of the sparkling Seneca Lake stretched out below us, told us that some people believe Seneca Lake and Cayuga Lake to its east are connected at a very deep level, or were at one time; cars that were sunk in one have been found at the bottom of the other, so people claim. This image became a metaphor for me of the unconscious unity between Right and Left in America  – for which the name is “bourgeois” –  a hidden unity that prevents white middle class educated people from understanding “the real nature of the struggle,” an ignorance which, at bottom, preserves enmities, strengthens capitalism and weakens the power of human beings to struggle on behalf of their humanity.

I bring my beloved family into this discussion because it’s way too easy to point to fascism in “the Trumpies” rather than to see it in the unconscious white supremacy expressed in unconscious “lifestyle” choices, and in the unquestioned liberal rationalist assumptions among one’s own people.  But the point is,  they are united.  Many are the ways to abandon the vision, few are the ways to adhere. To see this does not make me ambivalent about family feeling; but the complexity and the pervasiveness of the problem has to be faced if one is committed to that vision of unity.

This unconscious unity, way down underneath the lakes, prevents self-recognition, the challenge to one’s own dogmas, that in turn challenges bourgeois reality.  Take for example those yearly reunions of my mother’s family, which became a project of mine in 2008 when my mother died. Although my original motive was not consciously anarchist, its clear to me that the reunions directly oppose the tendency of modern middle class, educated white families, perhaps I should call it a law,  to disperse. We are supposed to want for our children a “better life,” with better left unspecified but mainly meaning attainment to bourgeois respectability. The family diasporas tend, conveniently, to be attributed to progress, to successful liberation from the limiting “tribalisms” of family, religion, small town small mindedness, etc. or in rustbelt Utica’s case, to the “economy.” Whatever we think of it, and whatever its cause in the realities of the economy, we do not question its rightness; no one on the liberal end would dream, in an “elder’s” way,  of struggling to keep a family together at the possible cost  of worldly success; furthermore, modern families are often fractious enough (i.e., dysfunctional) that distance seems advisable. We do not see family dispersal as evidence of unquestioning obedience to the values established by capitalism over traditional loyalties of family, community, and place, a culture-destroying process that has aided and abetted dehumanization by further stranding our souls.

The projects Orin and I undertake, some of which embody traditional values, like the family reunions, some of which may appear more frankly anarchist, such as our coffeeshop business in Utica, or our choice to live in inner city Utica rather than in some beautiful and verdant upstate location like the shores of Skaneateles, are consistently seen by our family and others as admirable, even, we suspect, as “saintlike.”  This is one of those many ways that bourgeois reality keeps anarchist – that is, positive, non-defensive – unity limited to a miniscule minority, who then  can be designated somehow extraordinary, in the category of  “saints” or “prophets,”  and definitely quixotics.

The majority, thanks to the media-dominated conspiracy against solitude, reflection, the arts, those commonly available means of both human self-knowing and of “finding society,” remain unaware that eachis called into the “communion of saints” through the extraordinariness of his her own creative soul.  They  remain in their ignorance like church “lay people” who leave inspired work on behalf of human brotherhood to the hired “professional.”  For those unified in One Big Neoliberal Reality, the admirable or saintlike behaviors will not be seen or understood  in their true anarchist meaning, the reality of the struggle. When we come together in families or in our social groups we may bleat about the horror of Trump, but do not confess the horror of our captivity in bourgeois, TV-inspired technocracy.  We do not ask each other what are the burdens we carry, the sorrows that darken our eyes, and if by chance we do have such a sharing, touching us into a different, spiritual layer of unity,  we do not (not yet anyway!)  proceed from that unity to discuss how we might live more closely to the reality of our hearts.  It is taken for granted, in my family and perhaps also yours, that “our way of life is not negotiable.” But the  bourgeois American Dream must be negotiable if we are to protect the necessary ally, that is, our creative, imagining souls, in resisting oppressive neoliberal fascistic inverted authority.  In such a shared resistance it is possible to regather the scattered tribe, the estimable opponent to authority, its power lying in the individual’s non-compliance in suppressing her imagination.

Kim C. Domenico, reside in Utica, New York, co-owner of Cafe Domenico (a coffee shop and community space),  and administrator of the small nonprofit independent art space, The Other Side.  Seminary trained and ordained,  but independently religious. She can be reached at: kodomenico@verizon.net.