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by Chuck Richardson
Friday, Jun. 13, 2003 at 11:19 AM
An analysis of identity politics and the role it can play in transforming America into a more progressive, democratic society.
“Who the hell do you think you are?”
That’s a common question of those who dislike something I’ve said. I’ve also been accused of hating my country, to which I say I never joined America; it just claimed me via eminent domain like so much Indian land. I’m not the property of the USA; rather, my country belongs to me if I choose to join it.
Being adopted, and thus “chosen,” I tell them I feel it incumbent upon myself to be a prime bastard. I’ve had a split identity from the start and never really belonged to anyone or anything. If I was happy with the treatment I was receiving from my adopted parents I was Chuck Richardson, if not I was John Andrew Blake, son of my biological parents. The real me drifted back and forth growing up, but now I’m somewhere between the two. As time passes these polar identities evolve and the real me grows in complexity.
I think I’m a bastard who’s evolved very differently from my fellow human beings because I’ve always been haunted by the possibility I was really someone else, and strove to be as human, as much of my true self as I could. So I think there’s some value in others hearing what I have to say.
So, who the hell are my critics?
First, we must locate them in a socio-political-economic sense. It’s safe to say they aren’t progressive. It’s also safe to say they aren’t rich, simply because rich people are too busy with their own business, for the most part, to pay any attention to someone like me because I don’t jibe with their market demographics and the main stream (though I look like I should).
Rather, the people who come across my work are most likely already disgruntled in some respect, or they wouldn’t have found it.
Furthermore, these disgruntled souls are more often than not intelligent, but for the most part lacking advanced degrees, just like myself. I only have a bachelor’s in English and an associate’s in communications, both from state-run schools. There’s no Ivy League legacy in my adopted family – the rest remains a mystery. What I know is largely self-taught or learnt through experience because I never really trusted anybody and hated the possibility of being his or her victim.
Like my readers, I often found formal education too narrow and strict an environment for my mind to truly expand. I didn’t always like being a captive reader when I was aware of so many other great works waiting to be devoured. I also came to realize that formal education was a lot of political bullshit, and the higher one got the more prevalent the power games became.
The end result of consciously bucking the higher education system is a highly, yet informally educated person who lacks the official credentials to profess on various subjects, but who, like Thersites (1), can’t keep his or her mouth shut about anything, much to the chagrin of those with the documentation or cash to back their own alleged expertise.
Everyone knows a child nurtured amid non-human nature, lacking credentials, will outdo an eagle scout in the woods any time. It comes down to a question of perspective, which is partly the result of one’s immersion in the inhuman world. A child in the suburbs, no matter how well trained and accredited, will not be as immersed in wild nature as the uncredentialed wood sprite (2).
The trouble is too many books, articles, columns, films and other works are produced by civilized (3) eagle scouts, whose work gets consumed by a public that has a similar lack of immersion in the inhuman world, due to its largely suburban environment. These scouts use the system as a means to power, and regardless of their political stripe fail to consider those who speak without officially sanctioned expertise. The result is a tyranny of experts who’ve been hailed thus, in large part, because of the university program that produced them and the network of relationships they developed. They are nice people, mostly, but very gainfully employed by elite interests (their own), and they do not represent us because their immersion in the world is different from ours. Yet they have more power than we do and therefore more freedom. That’s why things are so fucked up out here in the woods. The republic is more Republican than Democrat, or neo-liberal/conservative than progressive, and becoming less democratic as a result.
We need to pay more attention to the work of wood sprites, whose habitats are being destroyed. Disagreements among us are intense because we see our world losing its habitability and we’re running out of places to go. Our various perspectives emerge from our diverse immersions in nature. What we have in common is the anxiety of a wild animal whose world is being decimated for another housing development. The only way out is across the highway. We can hear the machines. They’re surrounding us. And the secret is not to panic, though the odds are against us. We need to hear the music and perceive justice if we’re to retain our humanity.
To begin with, no two immersions are alike. By immersion I mean mode of inhabiting the world. I’m reminded here of Thoreau’s passage in Walden describing the melting sandbank beside the railway that passed by Emerson’s pond:
"What makes this sand foliage remarkable is its springing into existence thus suddenly … I am affected as if in a peculiar sense I stood in the laboratory of the Artist who made the world and me – had come to where he was still at work, sporting on this bank, and with excess of energy strewing his fresh designs about … You find thus in the very sands an anticipation of the vegetable leaf. No wonder that the earth expresses itself outwardly in leaves, it so labors with the idea internally. The atoms have already learned this law, and are pregnant by it. The overhanging leaf sees here its prototype. Internally, whether in the globe or animal body, it is a moist thick lobe, a word especially applicable to the liver and lungs and the leaves of fat …, externally a dry thin leaf…The feathers and wings of birds are still drier and thinner leaves. Thus, also, you pass from the lumpish grub in the earth to the airy and fluttering butterfly. The very globe continually transcends and translates itself, and becomes winged in its orbit… The whole tree itself is but one leaf, and rivers are still vaster leaves whose pulp is intervening earth, and towns and cities are the ova of insects in their axils.
"… You here see perchance how blood vessels are formed… in its effort to obey the law to which the most inert also yields … What is man but a mass of thawing clay? The ball of the human finger is but a drop congealed. The fingers and toes flow to their extent from the thawing mass of the body …
"Thus it seemed that this one hill side illustrated the principle of all the operations of Nature. The Maker of this earth but patented a leaf (4)."
I quote Thoreau at length because the passage illustrates perfectly what I mean by immersion. The force informing the melting sandbank is the same force in-forming everything. The immersion is the one force inhabiting the world, something like a hand in a glove (living things are its fingers). Everyone is essentially formed by the same force, but different due to their position in space-time (historical constraint), which confines their placement and function in the ecosystem (their DNA, or nature). This is the same principle that informs snowflakes, fingerprints, DNA. The paradox is that no two like entities are alike. Each of us embodies the friction of the life force, individuating itself in order to inhabit the world. That means each of us exists for our own sake, not to be used by others to our own detriment. We are sparks crackling away from the fire, taking brief flight only to dissolve, spent, into the inhabited, conscious night.
This brings me, in a roundabout way, back to the question of my critics’ identities, or egos, and who and what they imagine themselves to be.
Most people who are offended by my contrary views, in my opinion, come from two camps: first, those who occupy a higher station in society than me and disdain my petulance, labeling me green with envy (these critics manifested themselves only when I worked for a corporate newspaper, as from there I could more directly afflict their comfortable lives; once I was fired they faded away); and second, those from my own political-economic class, who are largely materialistic, white Christian working people who are self-conscious about their homes and possessions, and thus self-deluded into believing a clear conscience regarding their possessions and lifestyles is their God-given right. That’s what their faith in Jesus is for; their sins are already forgiven.
The first group’s criticism is certainly understandable, but why would someone from a relatively low station in life criticize one of their peers for being upset at the way their group is being manipulated and lied to by the group in power? The reason, of course, is their perceived self-interest. These critics of the second class believe that people work out of self-interest only as long as they must. Altruism emerges from wealth. Once one is rich one can afford magnanimity. “They can’t be bought,” such amateur ideologues say. Their mistake is in believing that most wealthy people haven’t already sold out, that human nature evolves as it ascends the social ladder and that rich people are somehow morally superior or they wouldn’t be so successful. They must have a right to all their stuff, and their employees, for the most part, believe it would be nice if they could be just like their superiors. These second class critics are correct, however, in believing there is a right to economic freedom. What they forget is that right exists only so long as it doesn’t trample on the same right of others.
Of course, the wealthy political class, no matter how rich and powerful it becomes, is working in its own self-interest and not the interests of what it perceives to be the inferior classes. What management knows that labor doesn’t is that the boss didn’t get where s/he was by divine right, but through hard work. People who accept such preposterous propositions – that they are comfortable thanks to their own hard work and wisdom, or struggling because of their lack of powerful connections – always delude themselves about the reality of their interrelationships with other living creatures and the state of the social contract.
Comfortable Americans, most of them suburban and white, believe they’re trying to carve out better futures for their children. Their true legacy, however, is that of the perpetual dupe, which brings me to the reason for this excursion into identity: It serves as an introduction to a series of bi-weekly essays I’ll be publishing through the 2004 national election.
The time has come for “we the people” – that is you and me as common individuals – to admit to ourselves the emperor has no clothes and a better system is needed if our experiment in democracy is to continue. I’m going to call the series A Bastard’s Manifesto.
My purpose is threefold:
*First, George W. Bush and his neoconservative buddies must be defeated and routed from power because more people will live longer and better if they are.
*Second, the legal idea of corporate personhood must be nullified. The hopes and dreams of America and life everywhere do not belong in the hands of private, selfish interests.
*Third, people must be made more aware of their evolving relationship with the rest of nature on a spiritual level and re-inhabit the earth, regaining their birthright, their humanity.
Unless these three objectives are met soon, we face a very dark future. I’m almost certain of this, more certain than I am of myself.
On June 27, I’ll begin with the first of several bi-weekly essays analyzing corporate personhood, how it came to be and what it’s doing to our culture and others around the world. I’ll then continue with another bi-weekly series describing the United States as a meta-fascist corporate state whose offensive foreign policy is fueled by the military industrial complex from which it has emerged. By the beginning of 2004, I’ll be writing analytical pieces on the election on a weekly basis.
By then I should also have my own Website up and running. It will cover the politics and culture of Niagara and Orleans counties in western New York state from a progressive viewpoint with the aim of promoting a more open and just society.
Next Topic: What corporations are and how they got started.
Chuck Richardson lives in Western New York and selections of his work are archived at www.corporations-suck.com.
1. See Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida, II, iii, 68-70, where Thersites sums up the Trojan War this way: “All the argument is a whore and a cuckold, a good quarrel to draw emulous factions and bleed to death upon.” The play’s subject matter is never heroic, and Shakespeare uses Thersites to prick the aristocracy’s bubble of pride accompanying the wholesale slaughter on the battlefield. In Homer’s Iliad, Thersites is the only common foot soldier portrayed. In Book II, Homer describes him as ugly while all the other characters are god-like heroes and beautiful aristocrats. Thersites represents the under classes, whom Homer disdains, perhaps fearing the rabble’s political strivings for democracy in his own time, since the masses no longer trusted the ruling class and began raising their own voices in protest. That Homer has Ulysses beat Thersites back into place, and describes him as crying and cowardly, Homer may be using Thersites as his whipping boy. I think it’s possible, however, that Thersites’ tears are not those of cowardice or weakness, but rage. Greece was soon to become, of course, the nativity of Western democracy.
2. The trouble with the term “nature” is that it presents a false dichotomy. Human beings are of nature, not above or separate from it. When most of us say nature, what we’re really referring to is the nonhuman, or that which humans have not made. These are inhuman entities that populate nature along with us. Since nature is not arranged hierarchically, but rather as a web or a patterned, systemic formula of interrelationships, nature is itself in-human. We are in our wildest, most powerful state of mind when our consciousness taps into that which is immersing itself in the world through our being.
3. Civilized – what does that mean? Well, civilization is what people do. It’s perfectly natural that they should seek to individuate themselves from each other and nature, and in the process of acting out their desires create a friction that manifests itself as civilization. The traits of civilized people are high degrees of work specialization and differentiation in their modes of recreation, as well as a perceived difference in quality between themselves and other species in the animal kingdom. A wild person recognizes the innate equality among all of earth’s creatures, a civilized one doesn’t because of too much self-involvement with his or her own kind. A civilized individual is a domesticated wild person, successfully assimilated into a civilization. The degree to which one is civilized is directly proportional to the degree one is assimilated.
4. Thoreau, Henry David. Walden, chapter 17: “Spring,” pp. 405-7, Quality Paperback Book Club, 1997.
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