In order to win membership in the human race, we are asked to pay a “small” price: everything. We are asked to give up our basic and most trustworthy way of knowing the world in favor of a phony charade of polite agreement. This is a colossal mutilation, and it accounts for much of the rage and pain that all of us carry and that erupts periodically in orgies of war and barbarism. – Morris Berman, Coming to Our Senses
…call it whatever you like [i.e., soul, abyss, void, collective unconscious, crossroads,etc.]! Ir isn’t nice, it doesn’t fit, it shouldn’t be allowed, and it doesn’t belong; it is Otherness—and the language of Otherness is myth.
– Daniel Deardorff, The Other Within
The greatest oppression on earth is the suffering of meaningless wounds. The life of the Other Within –nobility at odds with circumstance—is madness, it is crazy, torturous, insane and inane, and the only help, the only medicine, is down here precisely where we have fallen: in the…Mythic Reality. Ibid.
For many years, since I was in Divinity school, I’ve received the Catholic Worker paper (CW turned 86 May 1) in the (now old-fashioned) mail, its unassuming, black-and-white newsprint format so unflashy and glitzless that it is easy to overlook it, compared, say, to the powerfully attractive pull of the latest New York Times, or the New Yorker magazines my brother has been dropping off for us. Having remained firmly planted in their anarchist, Catholic viewpoint, CW isn’t interested in covering “all the news;” their intelligent radical critique always is centered in the heart. The people whose obituaries they publish are not society people, or guys who made millions in computers or advertising or showbiz, but ordinary people, sometimes people the rest of us would call bums, junkies, crazies, felons, etc., in other words, emphatically, “others.” While strongly attracted to CW’s politics, its communitarianism, it’s beautiful black and white graphic art (never photos!), to the ideas and integrity of founders Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin, I never imagined I would one day find myself as “otherized” as they, unfashionably committed to building community outside the spectacle of capitalism, and rooted, like CW, in imaginal myth-based reality that ensures centrality of heart and marginalization in society.
The small groups that meet in our Cafe and the next-door nonprofit The Other Side to mutually confirm our individual contrarian, non-conformist sanity, to discuss books about anarchism, share potluck meals, feel the warmth of genuine community, are reaching a new point in their evolution. For the first time, Orin and I are joined by significant numbers of young people, who seem content, for now, to keep our activist goals loosely defined. By mostly unspoken consensus, our discussion at this stage is our activism. We have never said in so many words that this community of outsiders (i.e., outside neoliberal consensus reality), might become a core (corps?) committed to work together as activists in facing the worst that may be coming, due to rising fascism, climate collapse, etc. (like the CW people diligently caring for those worst-off under capitalism), or that our activism might take some other form as yet undefined.
Might it, I wonder, be time we made our unity explicit, perhaps formalizing our mutual commitment? I hesitate at the thought; though its possible people are waiting to be asked, the asking feels extreme in our circumstances. Liberal reality instructs us to ask nothing more of our comrades than showing up, if – and only as long as – they feel attraction to the group – no compulsion, no guilt-tripping, no manipulation!!
Of course, precisely because that liberal definition of freedom is now unconscious dogma, unity’s cause is supremely challenged in our society. The freedom guaranteed by my rights, freedom to do anything I want, or to do what is logically best for the interests I am considering, is unassailable. It may be that the new reality of climate collapse we collectively face (ie., it’s too late! )– can at last bring us to facing the point (the abyss) that has been true for imperiled human culture for centuries, or millennia: we are at the edge of the roof, and there never were a smorgasbord of options for people committed to remaining human. In fact,, in order to keep functioning humanly (cooperatively) and not neurotically or barbarically, and to restore a non-coercive basis for unity, some kind of imaginative leap will be necessary. How this will happen here in Utica cannot now be foretold; our anarchist groups are engaged in something that has never before been; we have no choice but to improvise.
So far, my fantasied ideal for our anarchist aims, “post-hope,” is not communitarian and activist along the CW model, but staying with the power of conversation to lead us where we’re going. I would like for us to become weirder and weirder which I take to mean, in the current insane context, to become saner, more lucid, more coherent in the face of a mass world clearly off its rocker. Politically astute and savvy people would not agree with me. They’re saying there’s no time for conversation. We need to hit the streets en masse. The outrages are too many, too awful, where is our protest, our shutdowns of business-as-usual, etc. On the other hand no one is asking, do we have a society worth saving? The fact that people do not hit the streets in order to save our worthless necks may not be the wrong it seems. It might be wiser now to cultivate our humanity, and the conditions for remaining human, as these are not being widely considered; a marginal place like Utica makes an excellent locus for such deeply subversive activity.
Objection: But what about those others living in the geographical regions that will be hit first by climate collapse? Well, what about them? Is mass global suffering at the hands of the free market system, of exploitative plunder and imperialist conquest, a new thing? Where have we been in not hitting the streets on behalf of all those others for the last several hundred years? This is a fair question, for if we had not been dribbling away our humanity piece by piece in the western “developed” world, riding the great eagle of progress and forsaking “the inferior ones” at the bottom, we would have stood against the atrocities committed against other people and cultures, against the earth, against Nature, that has been ongoing for a very long time.
Never have we been able, as a society, to stand up for all the “others” against the barbarisms and the insatiability of exploitative capitalism, and still cannot because of one underlying cause: the absolute intolerance in liberal consciousness for “the other within.” Terror of the interior reality has so crippled the motive of compassion, that, outside of wartime and natural disasters, sacrificial action on behalf of inter-related others isn’t possible except for small, marginal organizations like CW (which may well make it our most appropriate model for humanizing action).
In effect, terror of the interior (soul) has intensified as the world destabilizes; it feeds the current divisive insanity being experienced here on the ground in localities in America, ensuring that goodness will not prevail. In place of the healthier and still available (though far likelier to be ridiculed than admired) option of each connecting with the reality of her/his creative soul, instead of doing all in our power to promote healing and reconciliation wherever breaches occur, we now simply stay, marooned and defensive, in our isolated selves. Politically, we seek lesser-evil heroes to save us and fight liberal identity battles, the energy for which comes from buried rage, not love. To not rock the liberal boat becomes the “positive” social goal, staying away from any standpoint or opinion that would disturb our real, i.e. face-to-face social groups among friends who’ve made their “peace” with the dominant liberal media-informed reality which is, in effect, to no longer believe in the reality of peace.
Adopting such a safe, elephant-in-the-living-room-denying position, in turn, drives us nuttier. For the fact is, we white bourgeois liberals are surrounded by – and are ourselves, in varying degrees – people whose psychoses have been normalized. Due to the exile of “the other within,” we are not there; we are allowed to continue unchallenged in our fear of and disdain for the abyss, the soul, the prima materia of our interior. Decisions coming out of this fear-based irrationality, though justified with plausible-sounding liberally-sanctioned reasons, can only be divisive, violent and destructive. We who advocate the return to local and face-to-face must be aware of how much damage has been sustained to our humanity by freedom-as-dogma, how few are the shared values or loyalties left to which to appeal for disputing estrangements and divisiveness against sacrosanct individuals’ rights! We must acknowledge that the righteous defense of “rights” may or may not justify the violence to family and the community caused not just by vengeful identity politics, but by divorce, infidelity and the single-parenting option; to our relation to the earth by ceaseless support of car rights and the suburban option; to our city by a ceaseless diaspora of talented “footloose and free” people; to our having a humanity worth defending against the likelihood of mass extinction.
From my perspective, the topmost goals for human beings seeking unity amidst this chaotic and frightening time of multiple crises, are 1) the reclamation of the other within (i.e., individuality) by means of devotion to one’s art, intensive psychotherapy, or both, and 2) reconciliation between “others,” that is, to behaving as if we need each other and can afford neither liberal-style divisiveness, nor the ubiquitous, apathetic nihilism (shit happens). My concern, more than survival, is our survival as human beings. To that end, I point to two agencies particularly accountable for keeping us unhinged in liberal reality.
First, is the failure of those at the top to publish the truth: our liberal print media mouthpieces, unlike the “plain Jane” CW, uphold the kind of perfection of image, intelligence and wit of the educated, cultured liberal world that is so seductive to readers like me, living as I do in sadsack Utica. But, when referring in their “news reports” to real human-caused disasters, like climate collapse, or mass immigration they avoid the risk of including humanly connective words like: “this is the fault of capitalism, American militarism, etc.” Smarter lefties than I would simply say, Of course, this is intentional propaganda, etc., they are doing just what they intend. I speak from a less secure place. Down here in Utica, unprotected by an edifice of logic, the unassailable authority of the Times or New Yorker magazine – that never comes down to my level and admits the elephant – has the power to crush my soul. They would win my conformity were I not able to “deconstruct” by means of the imaginative “trickster” perception, the other within, who makes me question where I picked up the self hate just making itself at home in my soul. Without that skeptical other, the contrast between those published representations of perfection – seamlessly upheld – and the reality before my eyes, will successfully con me into inferiority in relation to that glossy, polished, liberal Wall Street world. I can only imagine this is what goes on in microcosm among everyone I know, a subtle seduction to live against our own (pathetic, discountable) interest, and thus also against the common good, against which we are helpless without the inner means to counter the consummately well-articulated lie.
Liberal reality, in which we function here at the bottom, calls equally for subversive cunning against its tendencies both to divisiveness and conformity. If at the tippy-top of projected power, the kleptocrats are not interested in unity, but rather, pleased to profit from our divisiveness, raking in the enormous salaries no one ever sees in Utica, is not our way clear? Might not the tricksterish commitment of our outsider anarchist groups in Utica be to reconciliation as archetype and as process, open to anyone who applies, including to insider liberals who assume divisiveness is someone else’s issue? This way may be “madness,” may be “crazy, torturous, insane and inane,” but we may have to go for it. We outsiders with our anarchist critique are well-situated to pledge ourselves to “nobility over circumstance,” to providing justice for endangered relatedness, here in “our small and most private of territories,” where we live, and where“an injury to one is an injury to all.”