It has been a really wild couple of months since I last posted here. At a certain point there just seemed like way too many things happening to update anyone on. Like when someone sends you an email and you don’t reply immediately, then you think you have to have enough to say in the email to justify the late response but you are still too busy to write an email long enough but the longer you wait, the longer the email seems to need to be…
Yeah, it kinda been like that.
Similarly, I have also not been writing in the emotionally saturated, poetic, deeply personal way that has characterized much of my work on this blog. For so long I have been doing a lot of technical and professional writing. Writing for work has allowed me to get specific, clear and to some extent succinct. It’s the kind of writing that was useful for its audience–helping non-profit professionals understand race and emergent strategic planning–but hardly felt like something to post here. So I’m rusty and even this piece doesn’t feel quite up to snuff but you gotta start somewhere.
Lastly, there was a lot of weirdness that resulted from my deeply confessional writing here on this blog. For one, I started to meet people who had never interacted with me but felt connected to me and felt like they knew me. This in itself is perfectly fine and, honestly, to be expected in this medium. Yet this was combined with people who I worked with in the movement who made assumptions about why I talked and acted the way that I did that seemed based on a distorted view of who I (felt I) was. So I began to write more and more about my thinking and my growth process. Yet, I soon realized that few of these people ever read my blog! So it led to feelings of being both over-exposed and deeply misunderstood, literally two of my three least favorite feelings.
So I took a break from writing personal bits and publishing anything here.
Yet now, almost a year and a half later, the lack of sustained output for my thoughts feels like a severe lack in my life. I have actually written hundreds of pages of thinking and theory, things I would like to weave into a book, but I haven’t shared them. They have felt too piecemeal to be shared for the most part. Yet, without sharing them and getting them into the world they sort of just ping pong off the insides of my skull, getting re-written again and again for no audience in particular. This is perhaps one of the most deeply unsatisfying ways to be a writer. While me dying at a ripe old age and my family discovering manuscripts after manuscripts of my unpublished writing might make for a good Netflix original movie, its not quite the recipe for a satisfying life.
So, yeah I’m back…just in time to live-blog the Final Season of America (h/t to my man Reece Chenault for that one). Like really, WTF America? Like addrienne maree brown says (I mean she probably only said it once…and I actually have never heard her say it but I’ve seen it attributed to her twice…but it works better if you turn it into a mantra) “things aren’t getting worse they are just getting uncovered.” But it’s like when we have a serious cut with swelling and bruising and you take off the bandage and its all blue and purple with a ton of dead skin…I mean you knew it was fucked up and the puss and swelling is part of the healing process but still…its gross.
This is how I feel about the idea of America. America is the self-conception of exceptionalism and importance that allows us equate our government with two entire continents. This America is not only the dreams of the hard right conservatives or the center-right liberals. It includes its opposite, the leftist who think of America as uniquely bad. Its still American exceptionalism if you think America is exceptionally evil or corrupt. Because in reality, there is no evil Empire. There is only Empire. The needs, thirsts, tools and ideology of its position vis a vis other countries and people’s. There’s no evil Empire because there is no good or bad Empire, like there is no good or bad serial killer. The act of serial murder is the crime itself. Sure, there are scales and scopes of murders but serial killers are generally not lacking motive only opportunity.
The circumstances of the United States are special but the U.S government is not really that special nor are the people it rules. This is why liberal media reports on the rest of the world have us seeing “so much of ourselves” in other countries like the leaders of England, Brazil or the Philippines. Its not that these leaders are somehow Trump copies (again the U.S is not actually the center of the world) it that these countries are experiences similar challenges to which similar (bad) solutions presented themselves.
This is not the say that the U.S is not uniquely powerful or that it hasn’t put itself in a position where it has an outsized influence on the world. It is certainly not to say that Trump is not having an outsized influence on the norms of international relations. The point it merely that it is outsized and that it’s due more to the U.S.’position in the world and not its merit. There is nothing magical about the U.S. We were the only major power left relatively unscathed after WW2 and our bankers had positioned themselves as the financiers of the world after WW1. This gave us a relatively privileged position at the Brenton Woods talks and other world shaping conferences of the Liberal World order. But no amount of capitalizing on the misfortune’s of others nor historic luck means that the U.S is inherently evil or inherently good or even especially special in any inherent way i.e. outside of its context and actions.
The U.S is like the kid in middle school who tells one funny joke in the 7th grade and is for ever just seen as funny. Being the funny kid is what makes him cool and being cool is what gets him friends, so he keeps telling jokes. Then one day, he gets to high school and now he’s just another kid and can longer pass off common jokes as comedy gold. He didn’t become less funny, his context just changed. No amount of laughter or hours spent telling jokes made him funnier than the other kids, he was just the only one with a consistent platform. And sure, other kids would have told other jokes but if the culture of the school is set up for mean or edgy jokes to be cool then the only kids who can stay on that platform for long with be people who are mean or edgy.
The more this becomes clear, and more other countries can no longer conjure up a reason to be beholden to the “Washington Consensus”, the myth of America will pass. And when the U.S’s position in the world is stripped of all its dressings of American Exceptionalism, when “America” is no longer seen as powerful because we are good but able to force others to say we are good because we are powerful, then the basis of the world order will have to be revised. Because hard power can never be the only basis of hegemony, otherwise it would exhausts itself. If you have to always prove your are stronger to be listened to, eventually you’ll lose do to being to tired to fight on. To be the baddest dude on the block you got to convince others not to challenge you.
Similarly, habit or structure position only works as long as a new system is more costly that continuing the old one but when the old system is in crisis you need something other than “well we sort of made the dollar the lynch pin of the system and have always let U.S. police it as long as we looked the other way when it overthrew smaller countries’ leaders (especially when we got a piece of that pie).” So when you can no longer enforce you will through force because you’re exhausted by several disastrous wars (not to mention pissing off your allies), when the global economy is at risk due to your debt load and when you can no longer put up a half-way decent attempt to pretend to be good in order to allow the people who profit from your regime to look like they are good guys in their home country…the myth will collapse and you will fall like every empire does. (In a later post we will discuss the myth of Empire collapse because its often only a “bad” thing for the wealthiest imperialists whose way of life disappears and the archeologists no can no longer study massive monuments to imperialism made by slave labor.)
Yet the death throws of that myth will likely be pretty ugly as it truest (read: materially dependent) believers rally to bring back something that was a lie to begin with. Because its never really just that one kid who was invested in being funny. Everyone who was friends with him was invested in him being funny. And every kid who just wanted to know what the hierarchy was and who to emulate in order to not be bullied needs a obviously cool kid to follow. And every kid who has found comfort knowing they were the only one who knew that the kid wasn’t funny–who define themselves as part of an elite cluster of “those who really see”–loses one thing to define themselves against.
It turns out, that a similar process has been happening in my own personal life. I think we all have a tendency to identify with the things we find ourselves doing all the time. If you find yourself taking the mic at a rally again and again soon you might see yourself as a public speaker. Once you see yourself as that, you might end up doing it habitually. You might get even better and better at it. You might learn to adapt to get certain social and emotional needs met through being at the front of the room. Yet doing it habitually and even being good at it or adapting to be validated personally by it effects on others, never makes it a part of you are in any essential way. Similarly, despite how much we might project onto it, being drawn to being at the center of the room doesn’t in itself make you an arrogant or self-centered person on its own accord.
The same is true of organizing, writing, working in “well-meaning non-profts,” consulting or living in a big city. Once you are open to possibility that all these things you have been doing might not be a reflection of who you actually are but rather who circumstance, social relationships and random decisions have conditioned you to be you might have a bit of existential crisis.
Just a bit…
Well that, is probably the best overview of how this last year has been. Its been a long process of coming to terms with the fact that there might not be an essential or authentic self for me to live in alignment with. Rather, there is a series of strategies I’ve employed and adaptations I have made, consciously and unconsciously, that have become part of the story I tell about who I am. A story I then strive to live up to and communicate effectively. If that story is kind of arbitrary then what am doing here?
The only really answer to that is that I don’t really know. But I think I’ll feel better about it all if I keep writing about it. So…here we are.