violence & violation

How long will it stay?

Last night, January 19th, 2017, I wondered this as I walked through western Cambridge, Massachusetts, near Memorial Drive, in a neighborhood where somewhat posh residential houses open up into some sudden strips of concrete retail, the filthy river and the glittering Boston skyline just in view. It is not a beautiful place. It is also only ugly to the extent that most architectural products of this age are ugly: morally, even if not aesthetically. Not that I always separate the two. In any case, I wondered how long all the human-made structures that I saw would stay. The electronics store, the gas station, the stoplight, the skyscraper.

One answer is, “It will stay until somebody tears it down and builds something else.” The more geological, morbid option, which I intend to reflect upon today, assumes the likelihood of non-interference by humans, meaning that the human species would be extinct by the time that these stone, metal, and other components began to naturally erode and collapse into nothingness.

I am not asking this question because I expect people will read and take action. As it happens, I am only a fledgling in the countless sums of voices who, possessing some vital belief, have tried to be heard by more than their immediate circle; I am even only a fledgling in the countless sums of voices whose vital beliefs constitute a truth, a prophecy, a desperate plea. Instead, I am writing this because it is the stupid, ridiculous human instinct to record, whether some extraterrestrial archaeologist should ever stumble upon the (digital) evidence and be capable of decoding it, or whether we say only to the absolute, perfect void that we were here. Not many will see what I say here right now. It does not matter. My words are meant for anyone, everyone, but equally for no one— the prospect of no one.

In light of such, I will not worry about whether my words are pretentious. I often find that when I write for an audience, I try to mitigate my mind’s natural gravitas with lighter-hearted phrasing, witticisms, self-deprecation, and so forth. The pretentious quality that I discern or fear others discerning— this arises when I have retreated far into my own stream of consciousness, thinking only of the thing I’m trying to say, relying on a lexicon and psychological environment that derived from reading old literature when I was quite young. But this is what I must rely upon now. I need this writing to be as authentic as possible, not because it ought to be my last, but because it is the first thing I have written in full acknowledgment of what I largely expect constitutes the final descent of my species.

How long will it stay?

. . . .

In my childhood, I remember learning about some grotesque crimes against humanity. They were explained in books and television programs and statements by adults, usually quite sanitized. It was at least enough for me to grasp the simplest facts of what happened, why things were so terrible. Chief examples would be the history of African slavery in the United States, or the Holocaust. At the time I didn’t think either of these things had much to do with me. For a long time I didn’t understand that I had an ongoing role to play as a person with pale skin, European ancestry, and a background of what could be called cultural whiteness. I also didn’t understand that I would come to belong to several demographics targeted in the Holocaust itself, even though I was not Jewish; nor did I know that a slim branch of never-met family members had been, in fact, German Jews. Even in my ignorance, I still knew such past events, and the people who perpetuated them, merited my horror. I had no trouble summoning empathy. No, the real trouble lay in how I imagined some curtain to have been drawn between the events of my own time and the events of people older than me, elderly people, dead people, forgotten people. I lived in a world where certain US residents were called ornery for having human needs now that they weren’t literal plantation slaves anymore (contemporary observation: for the most part). I lived in a world where Nazis were cartoonish, silly men who got outwitted by clever GIs and punched by dashing archaeologists. I don’t miss that time of my development.

What I do miss was the mood surrounding another thing I kept learning about, which was the natural world. My planet, the Earth. I attended preschool, kindergarten, and primary school from about 1990 to 1998, and in this time the capitalist “green revolution” had not yet superseded a different sort of environmentalism. Many of the ideas were the same, of course. Reduce, reuse, recycle. Save the rainforest. Protect endangered species. Don’t waste water. Don’t create pollution. Don’t harm the ozone layer. Don’t contribute to the greenhouse effect, the source of global warming. In the early 1990s, however, this felt different in the sense that, at least in my own education, we were taught these principles to contribute to a glorious, wonderful cause that would help preserve life on this planet— a cause that was winning. We weren’t past any climate tipping points. We hadn’t caused as much damage as we eventually would. We needed to worry, but we also needed to hope and celebrate. It was going to be all right.

That sentiment could have distorted the truth, or it could have been tragically misplaced optimism. I still long for that sense of heroism. It is very gone now. It has been replaced by a sunkenness in my guts, a tightness in my throat. A hollowness, a sorrow, floating on top of a simmering fear that has also dwelt with me since I was extremely young. I speak of the fear of apocalypse.

Raised with an atheist outlook, which I preserve in a highly augmented and problematized form today, I dreaded no Day of Judgment or various equivalents. Briefly, when I learned about the very idea of Hell, I had some nightmare about it, but this didn’t concern me. The most religious fear I felt was when I first read about Ragnarök, when the Fenris wolf is prophesied to eat the Sun. That story, though in truth more complicated than a pure, final, “everything dies” tale, hit closest to the fears that did consume me. Each time that I learned of various Earth-destroying cosmic events that could or would eventually occur, I went paralytic with terror. Asteroid or comet impacts; the planet being consumed by the expanding Sun; the universe as we know it ending with heat death, collapse, or who knows what. I couldn’t bear to think about black holes, even though the Earth is not likely to ever fall into one. The mere prospect of such annihilation petrified me. I felt keenly betrayed by the notion that life should come into existence, that sentient forms of it should evolve, only to have no ultimate chance. We would have billions and billions of years, alone or not alone, but we were slated to perish by the laws of physics.

It did not seem fair at all. It seemed as appallingly unfair as the idea that I could be born, enjoy living, accomplish things, collect spectacular memories, and yet ultimately die with no hereafter to welcome me. On long car rides with my family, when night fell I would stare out the window at the stars, and I would cry childishly but in silence at this impossible, absurd tragedy. The stars were the symbol of things enduring despite all odds, and yet even they would have to lose their fire.

. . . .

Here are some of my vital beliefs.

That humans are relatively hairless chimpanzees that have evolved a general tendency toward an erect bipedal gait, opposable thumbs, and fully developed linguistic faculties, although there are variations across the gene pool.

That we chimpanzees occupy some temperament midway between the common chimp and the bonobo, between the warring killers and the fucking hedonists.

That it is against universal wisdom and morals for humans to detach ourselves from the Earth by pretending we are better than other animals, or pretending we are not tool users, or pretending we are not omnivores, or pretending we are not naturally and inextricably violent.

That it is also against such wisdom and morals for us to detach ourselves from the Earth by pretending our absolute self-interest will have no consequence for life as we know it, or pretending that satisfying instrumentality requires engaging in exploitation, or pretending we need no standards for how to behave toward one another and the rest of life, or pretending we are not also naturally and inextricably peaceful.

That extinctions must happen if a species has lost its place in the cycle of things.

That extinctions must be fought if such a loss is due to a wider imbalance that threatens the whole ecosystem, particularly if the species’ absence would cause further destabilization.

That life in its broadest sense is good, and should be preserved, even while preserving so many evils within it. Even while preserving the more intrinsic forms of death and violence.

That a socioeconomic order predicated upon eternal expansion and profit will always serve as a destabilizing force, threatening all ecosystems, threatening all participants, threatening itself, making itself the greatest and worst joke that our witty species has ever played.

That there are few things humans have ever built which could be called unnatural, but that in terms of causing non-intrinsic forms of death and violence, capitalism might be called the greatest unnaturalism, the greatest virus, the meta-virus, the meta-death that is far worse than ordinary death.

That we are exquisitely close to running out of time.

. . . .

I am an emotional writer. When I write something that has hurt inside me for a long while, I weep as I scrawl or type. Somehow, I have not wept yet today. Today I am sad but also perplexed, puzzling. Weighing. Fighting the last vestiges of denial. I do not know if my tears belong with denial or with acceptance. When I know, maybe they will spill.

. . . .

By this point, anyone reading this when it’s published or with the relevant background knowledge could see that I have written this on the day that a particular man was officially inaugurated as the President of the United States. He is a despicable, infuriating, repugnant wretch.

But I am not writing simply because I had such boundless hope before he achieved his power and now, only now, is it dashed. For me it is not like that. That would be pathetically, embarrassingly naïve. Over the past several years of shared political struggle and my own private struggles, following various news stories about the latest undesired climate change milestone, the latest labor abuse, and so forth, I have already grown fairly convinced that the species is digging its own grave, and possibly the graves of everything else on this spinning rock.

I will provide two long quotes from a very important essay that I first read some day not long after it was published. One:

We are living in a mass extinction event. This is not a theory. Over half the species on earth will be extinct by 2050. Let me repeat that fact: over half the species on earth will be extinct by 2050. We are on track to kill off 75% of life in no longer than 300 years, assuming we make it that far. This is the fastest and largest extinction event in history, including that of the dinosaurs. If we understand the example of the wolves, we can see that these are not discrete losses, they represent the unravelling of the entire warp and weft of life. In The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert, she reports the extinction rate in the tropics is now 10,000 times the background rate.

… Seawater so acidic that the shells of molluscs are dissolving. Oceans overfished to the extent that they resemble deserts, seabeds ploughed to destruction, micro-particles of indigestible plastic poisioning bird life and turtles, reefs bleached, plankton populations which are the building blocks of all ocean life disappearing. Ocean acidification is predicted to double by 2050. Ocean acidification triples by 2100. The death of the seas is inevitable. Of freshwater I will say that the draining of aquifers is ongoing, that fracking threatens the water table and that wars over water are going to rage in the coming years.

… The Earth itself is exhausted, soil degradation endemic, washed with its nitrogen fertilisers into our already poisoned seas. The living Earth is fragile, it takes a hundred years to form a centimetre of topsoil. Farmland is a limited resource and eroding fast. Industrial pollution has destroyed 20% of the farmland in China – I am not sure that you, or I, can grasp quite how much land that is. Globally 38% of farmland is now classified as degraded. Human population continues to grow, as our ability to feed it, and our infrastructures, buckle. Insect populations will soon not be able to pollinate the crops. It is not just the bees, with climate change animals and insects are being born out of sync with their food sources. As I have said before, the wheel of the year has been broken.

… The air and fire are perhaps what should give us most concern. We thought we had more time. That man-made climate change would be tackled. It has not, and it will not be, as Government and Corporate interests are one and the same, namely infinite growth. This is where you should feel the knot of fear in your stomach. The CO2 emissions that are wreaking havoc now are the result of what we burned forty years ago. Since then we have engaged in an orgy of denial and consumption. There is no tech-fix in the Anthropocene, the age of manmade climate change. Nothing has been done.

What mainstream scientists are not telling you is that the impact we are having is creating self-reinforcing feedback loops. Essentially they focus on a single domino when we have an entire array triggered and falling. Methane release from thawing Arctic Tundra is particularly worrying. We are facing NTE: Near Term Extinction.

… Estimates for the time that this process will take, the process of extinction, range from fifty to three hundred years.

Two:

If you prefer reassurances you can ask the New Agers about their ‘global awakening product’ or believe the green wash of the venture capitalists who will seek to cash-in on the death of the biosphere with equally implausible schemes and vapourware tech-fixes. The governments and scientists will continue to lie to you to prevent the panic that disrupts shopping as usual; however, the cracks in the official narrative are beginning to show. Most will choose to keep mainlining what Dmitri Orlov calls hopium from the sock puppets squawking out of the idiot box. However, I predict the next generation are going to be angrier and their witchcraft more radical than you or I could dream. They will realise that there is nothing to lose, rather than this generation which seems concerned only about the size of their pension pots – not the fact that they have cost us all the earth.

… Extinction is a difficult realisation. After you have worked through the denial, you are going to need to cry in order that you can offer up the sacred lament. The five steps of the grieving process are well known, delineated by psychiatrist Kübler-Ross; they are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and, finally, acceptance. Everyone here will be somewhere on this scale and it is important for you to understanding this process as you come to terms with these facts.

The essay is entitled “Rewilding Witchcraft”, by Peter Grey, and if you are able to still view that link and read it, I hope that you will, whoever you are. It means more to those of us who are witches, myself included, and I do not agree with every single sentence; it almost feels worth remarking here that Kübler-Ross’ theory has been fairly questioned and reconfigured these days. But I read these words in 2014 or 2015 and I knew they were bitterly correct, for the most part.

No matter who is in charge of the United States’ government or any government, so long as we remain committed to the intertwined monstrosity that is Capital & State, the environmental movement will not succeed. Nor shall basic human rights struggles succeed. Although it is a fallacy to speak of animal rights in the same way one speaks of human rights, it is folly to place a division between environmental and socioeconomic revolution. The same forces that destroy human lives are the forces that destroy ecosystems and the very planet’s habitability for life. It is imperative, it is utterly— utterly, utterly, UTTERLY FUCKING UTTERLY— imperative that a critical mass of individuals turn away from Capital (or State) and stop hoping State (or Capital) will save them. They cycle together. Each forms the other. They are a twin ouroboros, without being the beautiful kind.

But I did think for a time that while the result of revolutionary struggle would be the toss of a coin, a chance that in those fifty to three hundred years from now— let’s put a clear date upon that, let’s look ahead to 2317— something momentous would have happened that began to save us. Until recently I thought that while we were already tipping down some horrible slope into the abyss, we might have the resources and tools to find our way to the other side and climb up the slender ladder.

When the presidential election took place two months ago, some of those resources began to slip out of our hands, and the ladder began to splinter and crack. It does not feel like the toss of a coin. Now it is the roll of a die, and the die is weighted, and our odds are no better than one in six. We can perhaps survive, still, and the rest of life with us, but we now must recognize the strong, severe probability that nothing will endure, and after the last life has been extinguished in a few centuries or millennia, the Earth will exist as a quiet lump of carbon with a poisonous atmosphere and some strange, gradually disintegrating artifacts from its multi-million year experiment with self-replicating entities. The best case scenario, so-called, might be that we meet no such fate, but only after enduring unfathomable tolls to human life and the extinction of at least as many species as predicted. There are a range of outcomes in between.

If such an outlook seems needlessly fatalistic— Trump, it’s only a name, I can say his name— my counterargument is that it probably isn’t fatalistic enough. If it were, I would have given into my socioeconomically cultivated suicidal impulses today, or well before today.

Let me put it this way.

Yes, Trump is a single, disgusting vermin. Yes, his regime is only so many vermin. Yes, contrary to the narcissism of many who live in this country, what happens here does not always have an overwhelming effect on what happens beyond our borders. And yes, the historical record indicates that all fascists lose power eventually (usually, and very importantly, by violence, not by nonviolence). I agree with these statements so heartily that I wish very much as if I could have gone through this Friday as if it were any other day— one more day of the Earth’s riches growing stained and toxic. A calamitous event, the inauguration, but only a drop in the poisoned pool of many other calamities. This thought has its appeal not only when thinking in geological terms but also in revolutionary terms, for we should not require the existence of an immensely powerful fascist leader in order for us to take action against Capital & State. And a fragment of my mind continues to think this way. It is an important fragment, well worth heeding in other respects.

Unfortunately, we must also consider certain pragmatic issues beyond how a Trump-like figure in any country would produce a serious existential threat to marginalized members of its populace, even with people like me included. Even if we are witnessing the endgame of the US Empire, this collapse comes when the specific footholds of the empire remain exceptionally capable of influencing the fate of the environment and the fate of homo sapiens. Compared to some people, I am not tremendously concerned about nuclear warfare. If anything, Trump’s purported coziness with Putin would be a boon in avoiding nuclear war unless various other aspects of societal collapse tipped some dominoes that we have not yet foreseen losing balance. (I also could not give a single shit-smeared damn about how much Putin influenced this election, but that is a topic for another day, except to add that I find Putin about as odious as Trump on the whole.) Rather, my already mentioned ecological concerns drive the sense of meta-death today.

This craven scum and his nauseating alliance of capitalists, military officers, Bible-thumpers, and Randians— they do not only seek to kill art and beauty, they do not only seek to exterminate those of us on the margins as if we were so many freaks crawling in the way of their vision (we are, O let us continue to be, O please). The United States’ industry, both internally and in its trade dealings, has a disproportionately large impact on the planet’s climate, the quality of the planet’s resources, and the necessary species diversity both within and beyond our borders. The darkest seat of Capital sits here, whatever may happen with State, for at least a few more decades, by my reckoning. And the newly inaugurated scum are actively working to ruin our final, desperate chance to make the national changes that we so badly need in order to still enter the abyss and climb back out when the centuries have passed.

I do not really think they see it that way. It is fatal stupidity of the highest, most cataclysmic order, nothing more.

If enough other countries besides this one can do double, triple the work that they already ought to be doing, perhaps this country’s failure to cooperate will not matter. But I doubt this.

. . . .

I know that others besides me have written essays on this same subject. Not only the one that I mentioned, either. There are a great deal. I do notice, however, a tendency in other essays to either close with sudden strange platitudes about what we can still accomplish, how we can take solace, etc., or close with no propositions for any solutions. Neither variety is guaranteed to carry a liberal slant, but sometimes that element shines through, malignantly twee. “We still have each other.” “Love is the only thing that will see us through.” “As awful as this is, I don’t know what to do about it.” “I’m just done. If you have any suggestions, let me know.”

I would like to not close any such fashion. First, I would like to quote two individuals who, though white and male, sometimes said some good things.

… it will be the silence, where I am, I don’t know, I’ll never know, in the silence you don’t know, you must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on.
— Samuel Beckett

In the dark times
Will there also be singing?
Yes, there will also be singing.
About the dark times.
— Bertolt Brecht

I cannot presume who has or does not have anybody. I cannot presume anything about love, a construct as much as a fool’s hope, a destroyer as much as a creator. Instead, it is extremely likely that we will perish, we as ourselves now or we as our species later, and those who perish may perish quite alone and without any love left.

If we do wish for any solace, any solution, these things will come only from reflecting, often, upon exactly how much we stand to lose, and the increasingly inevitable fact that we will lose every single part of it. Certain natural, logical conclusions from directing one’s thought to such ozymandian waste, and those conclusions will form a large portion of my future writing, here and elsewhere.

What I will say in short form just now is that continued collaboration with Capital & State will drive all the nails in our coffin; it will be the end, the absolute and total end. The last shred of a future can only be seized by divesting ourselves, carefully yet efficiently, of that ouroboros. You— you, if you did read all of this— must inoculate yourself against that virus. You must acquaint yourself with revolutionary thought. I must further acquaint myself with it, and I must make plans to do more than I have done, and I must follow through. If you continue to collaborate with the thing destroying us, I have nothing else that I can say except that you are part of the problem.

You, personally, are helping to select us for extinction. I, personally, may not be doing enough. No; I am not, not yet, perhaps ever. It is terrifying to consider that even with the most obvious choice before us, not enough of us will make it, or make it to the extent that it must be made.

How long will it stay?

D. Llywelyn Jones

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More dangerous, more important

In my last post, I had let slip the fact that I feel inclined to use this blog for political essays but see this as a risky endeavor. Now I have made up my mind. I could write more here on many subjects— my regular life, general media criticism/analysis, philosophy— but while I may eventually write about plenty of those, I do myself a disservice if I designate some subjects off-limits in turn. I am the sort of person who easily compartmentalizes emotion; however, I am also the sort of person who suffers internally whenever I deny myself a full range of expression, whenever I render my persona even slightly bland or inauthentic. So I will write here about politics, sometimes. Possibly often.

But the reason behind that choice is, in fact, only one reason. To explain the other reasons, let me first explain why I saw such a project as risky. It may be obvious, but I think not entirely. These were, and are, the risks I face in “going political”:

  • The usual reactionary, threatening, cyberattack rubbish. I don’t really need to outline all the ways that harassment occurs on the Web, and in fact, while I’ve never been doxxed, there was an incident more than a decade ago that made me very wary of non-anonymously sharing my more strident opinions. I intimately know what entitled, insecure people are capable of doing when they see a vulnerable but confident person daring to show an assertive voice. This blog has almost no traffic, but if it ever gets more, with desired attention also comes undesired attention.
  • Having some of my political opinions found out by employers, family, or similar figures with whom I’d rather not have such discussions. The more publicly “fringe” I allow myself to be, the less employable I become in a 9-5 sense, and that’s a pure fact. And the more awkward conversations I may have in relationships where I would rather actually not talk politics.
  • Being categorized or feeling obliged to engage in discourse with opinion-havers whose ideologies are at best overrated and at worst a vile sham of anything remotely resembling moral philosophy. That’s an admittedly harsh way of mentioning that while I can’t deny being a leftist, this label comes with many attendant labels and subcultures that I do reject. Not wholesale rejection in all cases, but usually significant. Whether these concepts mean anything to you or not, I do not align myself with any of the following: (neo)liberalism as unconsciously distinct from leftism; (neo)liberalism as consciously distinct from leftism; leftist political parties; political parties with leftist factions; self-described social justice warriors; leftists whose bone to pick with social justice warriors has overdeveloped to the detriment of their ability to self-criticize; state socialism; vanguardism; platformism; sex-positive feminism; sex-negative feminism; queer theory; critical theory; intersectional theory; class reductionism; poststructuralism; deconstructionism; anarcho-primitivism; historical reenactment anarcho-syndicalism; veganarchism; some other anarcho labels; deep ecology; and the list would go on. As for what labels I do accept, that requires me to write several more essays. Which I will, but first I need this out of the way.
  • Putting myself under pressure to write about every conceivably political topic under the sun, and failing to follow through. My personal life and beliefs give me numerous inroads to discuss an array of political issues, and even when speaking outside of my own experience, I think it is still possible for me to bring critical thinking skills to bear on less familiar topics. Still, I know I would inevitably ignore something, and this could fairly or unfairly be read as a flaw on my part. I’d rather only fairly, and nobody could guarantee that. Nor do I want to make too many mistakes in general.
  • A heightened profile across corporate data mines/state agency records of who is improperly political (read: leftist, radical, and/or anti-establishment) and active about it. Again, this blog’s Alexa rank is a fart in the wind, but I’m not stupid. I would be concerned with this even if Trump had not won, and I have reasons to believe I could prove a person of marginally greater interest for monitoring purposes, even though I also shouldn’t be that interesting. The United States’ probable shift on Friday from soft to hard totalitarianism only heightens this problem.

These risks are either irritating in the short term or severely compromising in the long term. But while they weigh on my mind, I have ultimately settled on the following counterpoints:

  • For good or ill, harassment and threats are part of being a public figure in this society. I may be far from a public figure, and I don’t want to tell real public figures that they should simply put up with the horrifying filth flung their way. (At least, I won’t tell them that if they’re in the moral right, and of course there are certain sources of terror and disgust that nobody deserves.) Nevertheless, I’m a writer, and professional advancement as a writer doesn’t happen in obscurity unless you’re the extraordinarily rare Salinger type, in which case you might have gotten famous before going into hiding. In my case, I could continue confining my public political comments to the occasional tweet, but as I work more on building my reputation as a writer, virtually anything I say could be an excuse for some awful brat to come along and try to ruin my life. Particularly since some of my demographic factors are often regarded as publicly unacceptable in the first place. C’est la vie. I may have to draw a line one day, but meanwhile if I keep worrying about this before it’s even affected me in the present, I do myself no favors.
  • “Employability” for my generation has peculiarly broken overtones, and we waste our breath apologizing for ourselves anymore. There are still some opinions and beliefs I am not ready to declare to all and sundry, but that’s due to exactly what they are— things I am still sorting out, things I know I must be prepared to re-explain until the end of my life if I want to initially explain them at all. Beyond those, I think the bulk of my views, though combined in unorthodox ways, are not outside the realm of what even vaguely left-ish mainstream papers and magazines have a history of publishing. It’s also honestly more lucrative to publish a writer with lots of opinions than a writer with few. Weighing that against those employers in fields where the reverse is preferred— all life is short. I should do what I can to advance the writing career, because that’s what I’m really born to do. Should this be a problem with some gatekeepers or private judges: the 3010s called. They’d like that future for the human species back.
  • If someone wants to mistake me for an identitarian, a dirtbag, or [insert leftist or leftish subvariety here]— or to argue with me as though I am— from this point forward I’m declaring that “not my responsibility.” I would venture that about 70-80% of internal leftist debates are semantic in origin, and at least 50% of any political debates— online, at least— derive from at least one party’s catastrophically bad reading comprehension skills. If anyone wants to claim I’m arguing something that I’m not, I’m going to repeatedly refer them back to this point until or unless they can offer a concrete example of why my argument could fairly be misconstrued as x ideological position.
  • I will write about what I can. The rest is again not my responsibility. I may define “can” rather broadly and set a high standard for myself. Regardless, there is some limit to that definition, that standard. My essays can get so long that if I’m ever outright expected to discuss Topic #2408 of the approximately 184,238,934 political topics available, especially when I have only even had a chance to cover up through Topic #40, then that is utter silliness. Unless #2408 has a glaring connection to #3, #15, #23, and half a dozen others such that I would look equally silly in not considering this one tree in that situational forest.
  • The chief form taken by my activism has kept reshaping itself over the past year, but whatever it really becomes, I will not be cowed by fascism itself. I will discuss fascism itself, alongside other such delightful topics as the Holocene extinction, in another post, probably my next. But let me say right here that if you are not willing to frame Trump’s regime as fascist, never mind any other US presidency, then you and I likely have almost nothing in common. Meanwhile, as I see it, in the ways I am not at significant risk under Trump, it’s my obligation to speak out in solidarity with those who are more vulnerable, and in the name of declaring what I still wish to voice from my own life. In the ways I myself am vulnerable, I have a few possible panic buttons of which to avail myself, and failing those, my gut twists more at lack of integrity than at some alternatives.

The last point was what really made me decide, what really made me write this essay. It is 2017, and I essentially anticipate that I may potentially end my life anywhere between the ages of 40 and 90, under deeply fraught circumstances. If I lived long enough to reproduce, my child would face a severe likelihood of global environmental collapse, independently of even greater political repression; and their own children, if any, may die as one of the last human populations. Perhaps not, of course. But I have thought apocalyptically since I was young, and every passing year has only further convinced me of the necessity for such thinking. I will take the political risk of speaking politically, because it is more dangerous than ever but also more important. This is one of the final chances. And if it isn’t, it could be folly not to proceed as if it were. For now.

D. Llywelyn Jones

Survival, So-Called, Part 1

Immediate warning: This entire post repeatedly mentions and describes emotional, sexual, and financial abuse.

I didn’t wake up planning to write this, but I also wasn’t born with the expectation of one fellow human singlehandedly and nonconsensually breaking down who I was and spitting out a remade version of that self. I did not expect to be shaped by abuse.

The reason I feel like writing about my abuse right now is that I have lately meditated a lot— and, yes, occasionally worked with my therapist— on some personal challenges that I didn’t think really connected to that abuse. But, as seems to be fairly typical, of course those things did connect. I also dislike being misunderstood, and since virtually all of these particular problems impact my interactions with other people, this evening I was suddenly moved to write at least once on why I have turned into the sort of friend, relative, etc. that I am. Which is to say, I’m not a terribly “good” friend or relative in many traditional senses, and I feel alternately guilty or frustrated by this. In writing this, too, I hope that maybe I will have a chance at finding other abuse survivors who face what I face, who struggle how I struggle, because we are by no means a monolith, and I can tell that my remaking clearly deviates from the Standard Victim-Survivor Model in some respects.

Here are some things for you to know first. One is that my first novel, Tiresias, does derive large portions of the storyline from my own abuse experience, which anyone knowing me during my junior or senior years of college could clearly recognize; but it is not a connect-the-dots roadmap for exactly what happened to Devon Llywelyn Jones the young scholar. Though it undoubtedly qualifies as a roman à clef, the protagonist Quinn narrates from a crossroads of gender and politics that I once did inhabit but is not my situation any longer, and even in the past I was not identical. The wholly accurate details of my abuse— and of how I really feel about it these years later— have only been disclosed to a few people, and these details were highlighted differently in the novel than what I wish to highlight now.

The second thing, which leads right to my main point: I have encountered and sometimes conquered a number of psychological hangups that relate to how I cohabitate with people, how I navigate my gender, and how I have sex, all of which absolutely derive from being abused; I don’t think that those hangups affect me so greatly nowadays, especially since around autumn of last year when my economic circumstances took a substantive turn for the better. So I’m sure that I could lend my voice to the chorus of survivors describing how we’ve each been affected by someone putting us into debt, by someone exploiting our altruism while collectively sharing our poverty, by someone’s poor impulse control leading to a hoarder household where you couldn’t even fucking breathe, by codependency leading to a mutual willingness to allow shirked responsibilities, by someone using your gender crisis as an excuse to map their own gender crisis onto you in the bedroom, by someone putting their hands where you don’t want them to go on your body, by someone physically hurting your sexual anatomy, by someone coercing you into sex acts that cause you nausea and disgust. But honestly, truly, I think that most effects from those elements of my abuse… they’re now rather marginal. I’m lucky. I’m relieved. I really did survive those things, and I can now live with the ways that Devon Llywelyn Jones was irrevocably remade before and after that survival.

What I am quite sure that abuse damaged in me long-term is: my ability to form, maintain, or even give a shit about most kinds of social attachment; my comfort levels with environments or aesthetics that probably a lot of people consider “pure” or “soothing”; and my interest in existing within certain social arenas at all. Of course, when I say that I was damaged, I mean this in a highly specific sense, not to broadly say that something is now horribly wrong with me. Frankly, though I have long called myself an extrovert insofar as being around other human beings (physically or digitally) is preferable to being alone, I would definitely qualify this as a “closet” extrovert because I’ve always compartmentalized the when, where, and how of most personal connections, e.g. if I know someone as “the friend who holds parties” then I am pretty content just seeing them at parties, or if I enjoy a coworker’s company in the office then I feel very weird seeing them outside of it. In the meantime I’ve also harbored a lifelong gravitation to the macabre, the morbid, the violent (all nuances of that word), etc., and I grew up as an outlier, a brooder, an iconoclast, and a cynic. If I had not been abused, I am fairly certain that I would still have spent a life embroiled in various countercultures, exploring things that are fundamentally queer, Dionysian, even occult. I feel no shame about this. I feel no drive to cloak myself in irony. I am wired unconventionally, and so are plenty of other people, really, and that’s all right. But by being abused, my existing peculiarities were fermented and magnified into something I don’t think many people who currently know me understand. Something that gives me a difficult model for the kind of connections I do want, and something that I suspect makes me a difficult fit for the model of connections that others might expect from me.

I do not think I can lay out the whole history and effects in just one post, even if I had time tonight. For the moment I will just try to focus on the attachment aspect.

To the best of my knowledge, my ex, whom I will call Cat, had been abused in multiple ways by three out of her four immediate family members before I met her when I was a college sophomore. I know this instantly complicates my own abuse narrative because I did not have an archetypal abuser. A young woman, hardly some classical sociopath, in fact impossible to diagnose consistently in terms of her psychology. Depending on which professional she saw, she had bipolar I, bipolar II, major depression, borderline personality disorder, PTSD, or some combination, all of which resulted in a totally new drug cocktail every six months. To say the least, I think that Cat was suffering emotionally on a profound level, and this is more important than classifying a condition or judging how much was borne by her own failings.

(An aside: while I think borderline personality can in fact be a meaningful profile to use for analyzing someone’s behavior, including Cat’s, it does rather frequently seem to be deployed as a way of saying, “You have PTSD symptoms but you’ve brought it all on yourself.” Never mind the gendered components. And the name is grossly misleading.)

Cat’s suffering perpetuated itself into my own life. The abused became the abuser, which I suppose is archetypal in certain spheres, but I couldn’t recognize this for a long time, partly because the ways that she abused me usually didn’t resemble the ways she had been abused. She must have learned that you always hurt the one you love, insofar as she rapidly proved incapable of relating to me in a way that wasn’t harmful, exploitative, manipulative, and alienating; and yet, she was not hitting me, forcing her body physically on mine during sex, doing sexually humiliating things to me in public, and so on. She just started, within months of first sleeping together, to force me into creating an environment where she never had to face anything that she was afraid of.

I won’t make “safer spaces” analogies. There is total validity to the concept of safer spaces and to their underlying logic of expecting people to treat each other with basic human decency. What Cat tried to do was make our shared life something I’ll call an innocent space. First she excoriated my tastes in virtually all media and pastimes because they were not always cute, gentle, optimistic, binary-femme, or sexless. Sometimes they were what you might call “problematic,” but she embraced plenty of problematic media herself so at most she was hypocritical in that regard; generally it seemed like if something were merely dark, intense, butch, or sexual, she could not tolerate it. Over time she extended this daily or weekly coal-raking to my presentation, my pronouns, my creative pursuits, my spirituality, and my social circle. I was not allowed to transgress my assigned gender because choosing something remotely masculine or butch threatened her even despite what a femmy, flamboyant guy I was at the time; if I couldn’t naturally become her partner in twee lipstick lesbianism, she would berate and verbally assault me until I was at least willing to forget or erase the most discomforting parts of myself. And yet gender was really just one part of it. Her gender policing belonged to such a broad package of identity management that I suspect I only zeroed in on the gender for years afterward because it was the most obvious form of oppression, a cis person telling a trans person how (not) to be trans.

Overall, I was systematically isolated from my friends because Cat temporarily convinced me that all of them were useless, unoriginal people, and that I needed to expend all of my emotional energy on her. Not simply because my friends called me “him.” Overall, I stopped doing anything that made me happy because doing it distracted me from her, because it shattered the innocent and calm sphere that she wanted to be in, and because it cost me money that was barely there in the first place (and that she was all but stealing from under my nose). Overall, we stopped having sex because Cat could not compute healthy sexuality into our relationship, because I believed at the time that if we never really had sex then we would still be saved by “love,” and because the sex we did manage quickly became bad and/or encompassed the sexual abuse I did experience. Not simply because she didn’t want to have sex with a “him.”

My abuse was so complex that I already feel like I need to pause and note how deeply I understand why Cat treated me how she did. It was not right for her to do, but the rationale is easy to trace, and it seems impossible to blame her for wanting a cozy, domestic existence surrounded by nice material possessions and some assurance that she would never ever have to experience anything more intense than a fuzzy blanket, or to experience anything more sexually and sensually stimulating than cuddling amid a marijuana high, or to be around men. Whenever I feel severely depressed, even suicidal, due to the state of my life or the world, my first recourse is certainly to go home, have a good meal or buy something nice to wear, and have a long snuggle with my husband, who is literally the only man I can cope with under those circumstances; a good shag would also make me feel better, but my libido isn’t really up to the task for at least a few minutes after a good cry.

I am quite sure that a dividing line between a healthy need and an abusive behavior is when you demand that someone else compromise virtually all their own healthy needs in order to satisfy yours, and when you force them into compliance through guilt or the feeling that you are the only person who can validate them. Cat crossed this line with me too many times to count. I’m sure it was hundreds. It blurred together into two and a half years of utter hell.

Friendships that once mattered to me were shunted aside to such an extent that I was only able to pursue perhaps half of them when I finally escaped, and then I suspect that even half of that half got irrevocably stunted. It had taken me twelve years of grade school to learn how to attract and nurture friends, to acquire the types of connections that I did desperately want— and it took me a sixth of that time to not only drop so many people by the wayside, but also to get shaped into such a cynically judgmental and bitter person that I saw most of these collapses not as losses until I was free. I have even retained that cynicism up till today, though the reasons for which I now find myself judging potential companions are fairly different than what Cat drove into me. This is the most obvious effect of my abuse on my attachment skills. Now, I just tend to back away fast from social connections because they remind me too much of her; because the ways we’re not so compatible are too daunting for me to feel capable of spending energy on getting along anyway; or because of what I will explain next. But I do back away. A lot.

The less obvious effect on my attachment skills has arisen more obliquely. Let me talk for a moment about empathic investment. I am very empathic. I don’t feel like starting some contest for who is the most empathic person I know, but whatever mechanism you would use to describe the cause of empathy, I have that mechanism overclocked. Obviously this made it easier for Cat to manipulate me in the first place— if she was suffering, I felt absolutely awful on raw principle— but beyond that, if I do value and respect someone enough to regard them as what many people would call a friend, those feelings of valuation and respect are strong. They are often quite equivalent to what many people would also call love, even though I don’t feel much of an impulse to live together or send flowers or exhibit a lot of stereotypically romantic behavior. I might find them sexually attractive too, and I might harbor some latent hope that they find me the same, though these feelings aren’t some kind of default. I will get to sexuality more soon, but my point right here is that it is hard for me to feel unmitigated admiration for someone else and not experience it as a kind of crush. This feeds into why precisely I am queer, I believe. It’s also a grotesque emotional inconvenience. I cannot go through life with starry eyes for virtually every person who’s moderately interesting, trustworthy, or socially relevant.

So: this is certainly one factor in my closet extroversion, for even if I prefer the company of others to the company of merely myself, I would be empathically exhausted if I made an effort to regularly spend time with anyone who was more than a very casual acquaintance. But also, post-abuse, I find that my basic threshold has dropped for growing emotionally overwhelmed, so more than ever, I feel as if I need to invest my energies strictly in personal connections with the people to whom I do feel magnetically drawn. My social experiences over the past several years have increasingly dwindled to spending time with “kindred spirits,” much as I hate that phrase, or to satisfying my extroversion by simply going places where there are going to be a lot of random strangers. I love long, soul-searching online conversations, and I love ritually scheduled parties, performances, and nightclubs. I can no longer cope with spontaneous “hanging out” or keeping track of important friends’ lives via sporadic status updates or annual e-mails.

That troubles me, because before my abuse, I was never too spontaneous and I was never good at obligatory correspondence. Worse, the general sexlessness of what constituted my ex’s comfort zone (apart from the few times that she decided to abuse me in bed) has repulsed me from connections where I know or imagine I need to walk on eggshells regarding sexuality. I don’t think that there is anything wrong with being open about how the enforced vanilla non-sexuality of life with my ex eventually pushed me to feel most fulfilled as somebody kinky and highly sexual. I never feel as if sexuality rules me in some addictive fashion. It is, however, a severe challenge for me to conduct myself around asexual, minimally sexual, or sexually ultra-private people, and I am not exactly proud of this. I have literally no disagreement with others inhabiting a less sexually-focused existence than my own, but I am directly triggered (yes, in the clinical definition of the term) when I discover myself in the company of people who don’t enjoy sex, don’t experience sexual attraction, are themselves triggered by sexuality, view sexual desire as a corrupting force, or would simply prefer not to talk about sex in general. I can be around these people, but I need to leave the room or take a break from the Internet if such qualities become a discursive focus. I am not terribly afraid of behaving like a genuine creeper, though I certainly hope someone would point it out to me if I ever did; my visceral reaction centers purely around the fear of being judged for something very benign. I don’t like how this has caused my blood pressure to pointlessly spike around people I otherwise would want to spend time with. It’s embarrassing. It’s stupid. Abuse can produce the strangest triggers imaginable. Abuse has hampered my ability to nurture friendships with more than a handful of hugely compatible, equally sexual people.

With that thought in mind, I will leave this alone until I can summon the time and capacity for a post on the next logical topic of this abuse that I seem to have survived in name only.

DLJ

Violence & Violation: Prologue

This post was originally written in 2013 and posted on a defunct blog. It’s been migrated here because I still think it’s worth sharing.

It’s been a while since I hypothesized about doing this essay series— and because it’s only just getting started now, I’m going to keep things organized as best I can, but I may come back and tweak things later. I’m certainly not going to prepare an overall outline for people to access unless I really follow through with more than just a few posts.

But without further ado…

VIOLENCE & VIOLATION

Prologue

This essay, or set of essays, is about the isolated infliction of suffering, about what happens when patterns of suffering develop, and about the importance of observing suffering on those two distinct levels. More casually, this is about why we do not live in utopia. Talking about all of this will get complicated enough to require that I establish many “first principles,” i.e. some kind of philosophical framework that I expect people to accept as given before I proceed onward with the real bulk of my writing. I will attempt to rationalize each initial premise, too, rather than ask that readers simply assume everything and move on.

But first, truly first, I want to establish the audience for whom this has been written, and why.

I’m sure more exist than what I can think of right now, but philosophical treatises tend to land in a few basic categories:

• Academic papers intended for achieving a degree or other concrete personal advancement
• Academic papers created by a professional in the field, for dissemination amongst peers
• Either one of the above, with the twist that these papers become so well-regarded that they become expected reading for newcomers to the same field, or even to utter laypersons, which may result in some revisions
• “Popular” nonfiction that intentionally addresses itself to laypersons but is written by an informed scholar and/or is intelligent regardless of author
• “Popular” nonfiction that intentionally addresses itself to laypersons but is written by a charlatan and/or is complete tripe
• The rare attempt to straddle both the purely academic and the purely popular without alienating either readership

I would like to say I’m trying that last thing, but since I have a particular academic (and anti-academic) pedigree, and since I have chosen to simply write in the way that feels most natural, I believe I’ll inevitably produce something that alienates some people while enthralling others, just not with specific regard to their OWN background, only their personality. On the one hand, these days I still try to explain my thoughts precisely, thoroughly, and with some measure of real eloquence, which should earn me points with more “hardcore” intellectuals— as it did during my school days. On the other hand, I have absolutely zero patience for language that either a) uses unhelpfully esoteric vocabulary, or b) discusses a perfectly common sense topic as though it were rocket science; this trait of mine, I suspect, will convince some of the same intellectuals that I’m writing for some lowest common denominator in a trashy, less-than-rigorous ploy to market “pop ethics” to the masses. Meanwhile, though, I can hardly guarantee that my writing is automatically accessible to every English speaker on the planet. But I am at least strongly motivated by a desire to have a large, diverse audience; if my essays could somehow get on a bestseller list, I would openly consider that a success, insofar as it could indicate accessibility on some level. I might be wary if my essays only got there by a clever publisher marketing campaign.

So, to you, the reader— and I’m just going to call you you, at this point, because doing otherwise feels dry after a while— I cannot make any promises, but I hope to put as much intellectual rigor into this as is GENUINELY, humanly necessary, and I hope to keep my wording clear even when it is not concise. It will often not be concise. If I allude to a particular thinker from the past (or a contemporary), I will try to always explain who they are in-paragraph or via a footnote. I will also try to not rely on too many references in general. I will favor providing meaningful statistics over tossing in meaningful quotations. I believe that any empirical claims I make require empirical evidence, but I believe I’m largely working from scratch— beginning from a place where any person, regardless of education or scientific inclinations, could manage to do the same thing.

Philosophers themselves would be tempted to interpret this procedure as me using a priori reasoning, a.k.a. the reasoning used “prior” to the application of the senses, a.k.a. pure logic alone. But I would like to assure them this is anything but. The senses are the immediate point from which I will really start this essay, and I will also immediately explain why. I just don’t rely upon other people to tell me facts that I already know, and that any individual can find themselves.

In some way, I guess, this entire essay ought to be something that everyone already knows, too, but maybe— very maybe— it hasn’t been said all together before. On that unfortunately considerable possibility, I now depend.

DLJ