Humankind is Our Business: A Case for Poetic Disobedience

Everywhere around the world…resistance to industrialism, whether the machine or the factory or the culture, is likely only at the start and only where traditional values are strong and communities intact.  

– Kirkpatrick Sale, Rebels Against the Future

…commitment and solidarity are mostly products of face-to-face, day-to-day interactions, unities of purpose that come from unities of place.”                                                                                                                                     

– Ibid.

In 1971, [Loren] Mosher launched an alternative approach for people diagnosed with schizophrenia…Soteria House was an egalitarian and non-coercive social milieu employing non-professional care-givers.  The results showed that people do far better with this…approach than with standard psychiatric treatment , and that people can recover with little or no use of antipsychotic drugs….the National Institute of Mental Health choked off Soteria house funding, and Mosher was fired from his NIMH position in 1982 . 

– Bruce E. Levine, Resisting Illegitimate Authority

Jay

A few weeks ago, at my brother’s request, I wrote my nephew Jason, who had unsuccessfully tried to get himself checked into a hospital in their town in Vermont and was now back in his apartment isolating, which in Jay’s case, was not about compliance with the pandemic lockdown.  He had taken himself off his meds, an action that always leads to trouble.  Feeling unsatisfied with the note I’d written, I called him on the phone for the first time in his 34 years, almost half of which have been afflicted by psychosis. 

Jay answered my questions mostly in monosyllables, as is his way, but not without friendliness.   I considered this my renewed commitment to maintaining some kind of contact with this nephew who grew up only 3 ½ hours away, largely without my ever knowing him. My brother called again shortly after my call  – Jay had been involved in an incident at a video game store, pounding and “spitting”on the door of the closed shop, the informant said, alarming people in the vicinity.  My brother says its likely he’ll be remanded to a hospital now, for his safety and the safety of others.

My letter had attempted to explain (more for myself than him, for whom “explanations” are way too late!), our distance from each other as a family –  a factor, I’m certain in Jason’s unraveling.  Insomuch as chemical imbalance theories of mental illness provide a convenient excuse for not making the radical social changes – ones that put human lives over profits –  needed to preserve the health of human beings and communities, I do not buy them.  Had a neighbor or relative stepped in to fill the breach when his mother’s breakdown led to her abandoning her young family, it would have allowed both her having space and time in which to heal and the family fully to be cared for.  Much trauma could have been avoided. Such a neighborly action would have been“no big deal” in a time and place when mutual aid and interdependence were taken for granted.   And had Jay, even if the family were intact, begun to experience a psychotic break, what a difference it could have made had there been family members to provide “egalitarian and non-coercive care” for him, rather than his beleaguered father having no choice but to hand him over to the psychiatric professionals and their regime of drugs? 

Such family tragedies cannot be treated as matters for individual guilt or personal responsibility in a materialist society that disregards the realities of  interdependence and interrelatedness, and a capitalist economy that benefits from weakened communities and relationships.   My brothers and I could not, any more than anyone else in twentieth-century mainstream liberal society, have held a perspective that put family and community first.  However, even in this time of moral anomie, such meaningless sacrifice of our children to the Moloch of “get ahead” and greed cannot be right.  If such sacrifices may be preventable through proximity and conscious commitment, if all biological life is essentially interdependent, even if such a truth is intolerable to the entire thrust of western progress, is it not important that we move ourselves back inside that web of interdependence?   Must we not, now, be disobedient, “rebels against the future?” 

Healthy Society and Non-patriarchal Masculinity

There’s another point I must make, and do so advisedly: In Jay we have not only human wreckage, but male human wreckage.  In neoliberal society’s preference for docile, passive citizens that make compliant employees and consumers, behaviors of the active, impulsive, non-compliant, bull-in-the-china-shop variety, often associated with men (but not exclusive to them), tend to be disapproved of in schools, diagnosed (ADHD, ODD), and medicated.  Our society fails to distinguish between “toxic masculinity” and (non-patriarchal) masculinity.   On the other hand, a healthy society – as modeled in traditional indigenous cultures –  must have the protective function that masculine defiance, assertiveness, boldness, and disobedience provide – in balance with the deep embodied spirituality of the feminine  in order to sustain itself against forces of conquest and disintegration.  It is tragic  no matter who – of either gender – is lost to mental illness. But without too much of a stretch, one could almost see the entire psychiatric profession as enlisted in the cause of destroying masculine boisterousness, producing a general type of the passive, compliant consumer (of mental health services, anti-psychotic drugs and institutionalization) that we now have.

Has it come to pass that we are simply “too late” to question as inevitable this slip into the oblivion of passivity,  allowing neoliberal authority a free pass to divide and conquer as they wish?  Are we too late to resist being enlisted in the genocide against the natural energies of “manliness”  – i.e.,  the protective function needed to resist complete neoliberal domination – an enlistment not unlike Herod’s order to destroy all the male infants?  Are we to allow masculinity to be reduced to its pretense only, in those whose manliness has been displaced to their guns,  in those with a rage against the vulnerable, the different and the immigrant? Are we too late to take back all we’ve sacrificed to have stream-lined, suburbanized lives, complicated by debt perhaps, but not by having to be burdened by interdependence, i.e., by sacrifice, caring for the weak, the mentally ill, the aged,  or educating our children? 

Is it too late for us to wake up, to recognize that  men and women cannot have our true strength when we are at war with biological fact that gives us two kinds of human beings, each an archetypal mingling of the masculine with the feminine?  Too late to realize that whatever we can yet do to preserve – or rather, by now, to recover –   human lives worth living society must have both “othernesses,” each having its wholeness, so that disobedience to illegitimate neoliberal authority can be general, rather than the defiance of a radicalized, easily marginalized, few?

More even than capitalism, I hold bourgeois liberal reality that loyally upholds Wall Street legitimacy, to be accountable for the destruction of Jay.  For that – for the contempt with which the souls of men and women are regarded by its fundamentalist rationalism and blind faith in science – this social order deserves our disobedience. If I go on to accuse the liberals such as Obama, or Hillary, or Biden, who talk  about the environment, or apply a touch of socialism here and there while their walk serves Wall Street masters, who have no trouble being killers,  it is as their being merely expressions of a more general phenomena for which I hold every liberal, educated, middle class white man and woman, myself included, responsible.  Even if “we knew no better,” even if we have struggled with insanity ourselves – the truth is, in loyalty to bourgeois reality, we’ve abandoned what we were supposed to tend carefully with our whole hearts and minds.

Like Jay, I was the middle child, I too the identified “troubled” one in the family “system.”  I too know what it is like – though not to the point of  hearing voices –  to “go mad.” Saying this,  am I over-identifying with my nephew?  Hey, it’s sad, but shit happens.  But, really, I am his aunt, – how is it possible to “over-identify?”  Echoing Ebenezer Scrooge: Was not humankind – my brother’s child – my business?  No, I prefer to think  that I’m not  wrong for feeling meaningless human sacrifices cannot be made without wounding humanity.  And that, now or never, in order to heal ourselves and the world, our way of life must go defiantly backward as our backward friends the Luddites (and many others) tried to warn us would be necessary, toward the indigenous and “local,’ where there can once again be “unities of purpose that come from unities of place.”  

Bunkered in this strange, de-peopled pandemic environment, we’re offered a rare chance to value that which we cannot now have –  people!  Somehow, even though we maintain a powerful nostalgia for the peopled world of family, local shops, neighborhoods, etc., and can be manipulated around and sold things based on this sentimental attachment, we sell out our interdependence every day.  Every day, we do the easier thing: we accept the polarized, divisive and reductive social arrangements we were given in industrial capitalist society, and substitute for what we have lost (and need) the suburban lifestyle we can buy.  In addition, we substitute for the real belonging of community in place over time, the pseudo-communities of celebrity-worship, MSNBC/Fox partisan devotions, spectator sports, patriotism, virtual community, etc.

With Earth Day just having passed, its ludicrous to hope, as so many of us in the liberal world do, to save the earth’s interrelated systems at the same time despising our human interdependence. Though  undeserving, we don’t lack for  genuine leadership in the art of  preserving humanity in balance with the natural world.  As many today see it, the indigenous perspective is, simply, right.  But we are not indigenous!  We do not know how to get our mentality, our inner selves, our thoughtworld  back in line with that balance.  To this dilemma, the answer is not  imitation, or even alliance with Native people as they fight for sacred lands and water, but  to ourselves defy the neoliberal order we serve that treats relationships as unreal and forfeitable, to make “the social” real once more.  To, when pandemic sequestration ends, disobediently take up our roles in our immediate social worlds such that we re-cultivate our “acre” of social-scape.   Though it be “scorched beyond recognition,”  here we’re grounded  in the real interconnections that exist, that, in obedience to bourgeois reality, we have dishonored.   

Poetic Disobedience

The power to rebuild the social world in its natural interdependence, in balance with nature, resides in our humanity – the same humanity that appears admirable in its traditionalist Native iteration.  Like theirs, our souls, too, have an indigenous “layer” that apprehends the  interrelationships – within self, between men and women, with the natural world.  This faculty of apprehension in the white non-indigenous world is called poetic.   By poetic art,  I mean  language art that puts unitive, connective metaphoric understanding into words, such that the subjective imagination’s way of seeing connectively, dominates over so-called objectivity.  Not coincidentally,  poetic truth is marginalized in industrial society, for what other perspective could be more essentially anathema  to capitalism’s egoist divisiveness and blind faith in objectivity than the poetic?  

To the disobedience of poetry we now must turn, no stranger an idea than that we should imitate indigenousness, and  in contrast, practicable for white middle class liberals!   It’s no coincidence that admired Native Americans like Seattle or Sitting Bull, spoke in poetry! While white people cannot force our mentalities back into “paleolithicity,” we can access the unitive, “primitive” layer of our being that expresses itself poetically.  In obedience to industrial society, we have suppressed this part of our nature, that belongs, not exclusively to Whitman, Dickinson, Frost, etc., but inclusively to everyone.  

Our imagination-fed creative function, that sees the world connected, sacralized,  must be the source of our entrancement, rather than the artificially propped up world that would collapse in a minute once we realized we do not need it – not  the cars, the TV’s, the MSNBC and NPR news spectacle, nor the gadgets and frequent-flier miles.   To free the poetic self is no egotistical act:  it is to serve and protect the integrated, “holistic,” poetic (feminine) vision, in disobedience to unimaginative, bottom-line, numbers-crunching, dehumanizing neoliberal reality. 

Poetic anti-authoritarianism has the necessary imaginative scope to retrieve the endangered masculinity I see in the tragically shattered person of my nephew,  in other young men I have known, in my brothers and in my husband.  But a woman engaging in poetic disobedience does so equally for her womanself.  Liberals have confidently imagined that by purging ourselves of pathological masculinity, we then could be truly free.  I find, rather, that the work of our interdependence is to engage in a very different kind of loving committed to restoring men and women in the fullness of their integrated beings, a unity of strengths can defend our “unities of purpose.”

My sole “credential” in speaking for a “poetic disobedience” is that I have been stumbling along this path  – more often blind than sighted – for many years.  My authority is my subjective experience of the connectedness revealed through the act of creative expression.  It tells me “humankind is my purpose.” Subjective authority alone ratifies Orin and my Luddite-like choices that are a life-way of disobedience to the illegitimate authority of liberal reality.  Unintentionally, over the last decade or more, we found we’d  replaced the central task of disobediencei.e,   the time-consuming practice of honest inward focus – with worthy community and family demands. In the liminal space provided by the pandemic pause,  we  find an opportunity to re-orient.  Gifted with time, we’re back in the moil and toil of the soul’s process, our quixotic aim unchanged – to rebuild intact local community where it’s “too late.”  

 

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.

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