So-Called Normality and Fear

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

I can’t abide the idea that, after all this covid corruption, death and revelation, we just go back to normal.

I know when most folks say get back to normal, they seem to me to be talking about a sense of right living, safety and security, things going well, according to plan and beneficially for righteous People. Nothing abstract, structural, ideological or political. Right. I get it.

But the thing is as I said elsewhere, there are times when we are definitely better off dealing with what’s actually in front of us, regardless of analytical labels, abstractions or levels, just deal in straight power concepts and wage love. This is such a time.

And what’s actually in front of us has become clearer in the last 3 years, especially during the 3 weirdest summers of my life – 2020, 2021 & 2022 just now wrapping up. It’s structural, devastating, horrifying, scary, all that and a hell of a lot more than normally challenging. I mean, what’s normal even got to do with it?

2020 summer was peak weird so far, with paramilitary federal agents grabbing protestors and disappearing them into unmarked vans, and FPOTUS using military force to clear the street between the white house and his biblical upside down photo op, in the context of peak covid pandemic and the election that never ended. Total QAmok insanity threatening assassination of democracy, because white power didn’t get what it wanted; because the Movement for Black Lives still lives and fights on. George Flood/ Breanna Taylor/ Ahmaud Arbery summer never ended. Or it shouldn’t! That way lies fascism, People.

Summer 2022 has also been extra-off the chain, after Russia’s Ukraine invasion morphed into war of attrition, with the handmaids supreme court re-enslaving women and the select committee and federal justice department agents exposing sedition, fraud and attempts to murder democracy by FPOTUS and his minyans. Parsing the mystery of the future thru power, agency, soul force and overstanding behind their veils of noxious lies, it seems like a new pattern may be developing or practically inevitable now. Sudden, powerful explosions are going off like land mines under all the contradictions embodied in normal, with gradual apocalyptic unveiling of new realities and visions for our future. This is it, the big change we expected. It’s here.

2021 was the year I saw a glorious sunset and realized I was seeing and smelling the west coast burning on I-75, 2000 miles away. The year of 20 weather disasters costing $1 billion or more damage (including the June 25 atmospheric river rain bomb that destroyed my basement). The last 2 summers have been the first 2 apocalyptic recurring seasons, where survival of millions is regularly put to the test of increasing heat above anything human beings have ever experienced. Likely features of our future, if we even have one. You see where I’m going with this about dealing with what’s in front of us and what’s normal?

The late David Graeber and David Wengrow’s recent magnum opus The Dawn of Everything; a new history of humanity, hints at the misnamed, misbegotten, misunderstood and manipulated question of ‘the origin of the state’. They locate this mysterious crossroads of human social evolution in confusion over the core obligations of care and violence, in neo-neo-lithic pre-agricultural communities of healing imagination and vision. Their necessary search for essential truths is disciplined (not unduly) by Wengrow and Graeber’s archaeology and anthropology evidence. Of course, they find some stuff.

The temple-or-whatever-it-was in the gathering spaces of what anthropologists who carry Auschwitz in their mind call “hunter gatherer” societies. Who see the motions that look most like work, and mislabel thousands of years of rich human being as that thing that looks most like work (Fredy Perlman’s point).

The Davids Graeber and Wengrow ask if we’re asking the right questions. They reveal thousands of years of sophisticated “primitive” human beings experimenting politically, evolving socially, and still offering us models of mutual aide and transformative direct action in our current existential global tar pit. Well that’s true, anyhow – and it may come in very handy!

The temple-or-whatever-it-was in the gathering spaces of regional migratory centers for human beings back at the time of the original dream, as the late, awesome and sacred prophetic visionary leader John Trudell (also credited with the above need to deal with what we actually face!) taught in terms of “What happened to the tribes of Europe?”, i.e., how issues of “love and fear and possession” (and power and control and diversity & deviance, etc.) got all mixed up and human beings haven’t figured out how to straighten them out and fix it yet. (after 5:00 on the digital timer) No wonder we were so helpless under covid; we confuse beating People up in the name of the law with helping them. Like Kim Wilde Anderson recently said about US urban policy in places like Detroit: a bludgeon for a patient in need of a hospice. The old confusion of violence and care, on steroids.

The temple-or-whatever-it-was in the gathering spaces of regional migratory centers for human beings back at the time of the original dream must have been the refuge for widowed, orphaned, crippled, enslaved, outcast People; even while it was the Lugash’s power base and sacred precincts of his (her?) lawful powers over life and death thru better agriculture and weaponry. The original temple hosts of today’s predatory neoliberal racial capitalist ALEC corporate dominators, forging subtle oppressive tools of state and empire to extract every penny from fossil fueled industrial growth, leaving the rest of us in the ditch. The malevolent intellectual carnage and social chaos of FPOTUS on top of the global apartheid surveillance and exploitation regime we call normal. Anybody hear any approaching bomber squadrons off in the distance?

Whatever the origin of the state, these very real and virtual/cyber states of systemic domination and corruption we’re stuck in are the legacy of past tyranny. They’re over ripe products of corruption and the thriving evil oppressors and principalities of today! Therefore, they can be crushed, discarded, and transformed into something better. The foreseeable future will involve threats, dislocations, risks and disasters for more and more People. Get used to it. But normal won’t cut it. We need more than that. Don’t be afraid. (Toni Morrison, A Mercy) Go find out what it is we’ll need and get it!

Every once in a while, I think about that great old Neil Young song, “Almost Cut My Hair”. Nah. I just can’t abide the idea of going back to normal. I’ll probably never cut my hair again.

Tom Stephens is a volunteer educator for the Detroit Independent Freedom Schools Movement (DIFSM) and a Peoples lawyer in Detroit.