E-Crises and Andidotes, All the Way Down

If you’re an American and in any way invested in the political system and political developments, then you are probably in your own e-crisis…

A few days ago I was washing dishes and listening to a podcast from the Trillbilly Workers’ Party.

I started listening to them this year, during Spain’s lockdown, when I’d take Alqo into the woods for a momentary escape. Hosted by Tanya, Tom, and Tarence from Appalachia, Kentucky (Tarence is a transplant from New Mexico), their perspectives as three marxists from a rural and conservative area are illuminating. Every so often, they reference the e-crisis, or epistemological crisis, that haunts the United States.

A crisis or knowledge. We cannot agree on basic, foundational knowledge or facts in the political, social, or religious realms. With heightened stakes for progress (societal and perhaps planetary survival) from pandemics, rising acceptance of authoritarianism, climate inaction, and many of us being ‘more online’ than ever, we’ve entered a new phase on how we relate to each other and the wider world. Obviously, disagreement spans centuries and geography, but the last decade’s technological and algorithmic advancements have given us our own finely-tuned informational vacuum that is not shared with even our closest neighbors.

We, the United States, with all our social and economic contradictions might be at the stage of the Weimar or late Roman republics. I say this knowing full well my own family does not see it like that. Granted, I tend to speak in extremes. Am I seeing something differently, (or missing something) because I live abroad?

But I also see the e-crisis in myself. I’m more annoyed and sarcastic when I scroll through Twitter in my morning. Why? Because all the outrage and governmental ineptitude is on full display right when I wake up. There’s no joy filter I can turn on. I just have to muster the willpower to log off.

Before I though of this crisis as collectivized, generalized. I had not considered to think deeply about my own internal epistemological crisis.

In this particular episode, one of the hosts, Terence, started dissecting the 21st century Marxist motto “A better world is possible”. He questioned this:

We’re constantly in this space where we think we can change the world, philosophically, … but we know deep down, empirically, that we can’t. That’s the e-crisis. It’s the space between those two things.

He continued by saying that some days he wakes up feeling inspired and optimistic about the future. If we keep on working towards something positive and democratic and for the benefit of all, good things will start happening. But other days, he wakes up with the grim thought that there’s not much those of us who hold no power or sway over large institutions can do.

The contradictions are stacking up, but for all we see with what’s happening (specifically in the United States), it is not producing the mass discontent, radicalization, and organizational action of people needed to overthrow the capitalist system. So Tarence ended his monologue with:

It would probably behoove you to get into religion, some sort of spiritual practice, or something.

From previous episodes and an article about them in the Bitter Southerner, I know that two of the Tarence and Tom are ex-Christians.

As with any book or podcast that’s meaningful to me, I started reflecting on my own trajectory over the last few years. In Mauritania and Mexico I had turned away from the (neo)-traditionalist form of Islam that seemed solid to me. In the end, I could square the legalist, non-mystical, and non-materialist framing that the celebrity imams and my Mauritanian friends seemed convinced of with my reading of the Qur’an and Islamic history. Even though I was relatively late to the party, I chafed at the sectarianism online and offline. But really, I was only rebelling against my own shaky conceptions of what it meant to be Muslim.

I had read a good deal about Sufism but did not consider myself one. My first encounter with Islam was through Rumi at university. I had never felt the ineffable mystical experience that the spiritual masters and poets described until my night with the chakruna in Peru.

That night healed my broken heart for the dīn, that way of life given to us by The One That is Closer to Us Than Our Jugular Veins and elucidated by the prophets since the first Homo sapiens, willingly adopted as my own. It also gave me the drive to start opening up about things that I consider incredibly complex and important. I don’t have all the answers obviously, and perhaps I’m wrong about many things. But I have enjoyed the path.

But if I’m being honest, I have become distracted from the ineffable. I externalized my peace of mind and happiness into the material with the Bernie campaign, wishing for improvements that might never come. I’m probably not alone. But with getting older, reading closely the arc of history and progressive movements. Sometimes the shoe never drops. I could live out the rest of my days with the anticipation of the sudden collapse of the global financial capitalist system that never comes. Tarence wasn’t suggesting religion to move away from fighting those necessary battles; racial injustice, the climate emergency, the neo-fascists. He was giving us a bigger anchor to hold on to.

I look to the Qur’an and Islam as one might look to Jesus and Christianity to steady myself and see the long game. To read the allegories of the prophets and the pronouncements for me is to gain a larger, more cosmic perspective of things. In the end, Justice will be served. It is up to us and in the same way, not up to us.

After I finished the dishes, I picked up my copy of Shahab Ahmed’s What is Islam? It was a field-changing book for Islamic Studies. I’m still in the introduction but in it, he picks apart the the conception of what is Islamic. Are wine-cups from the caliphs with Arabic inscriptions on them considered Islamic? Why do we consider the juridical perspectives of the great imams more Islamic than the philosophic-religion like Ibn Sina or Ibn ‘Arabi?

But it wasn’t necessarily the contents of the book that comforted me that night. It was the convergence of hearing someone remind us of the importance of a larger spiritual worldview to strengthen ourselves for the important materialist fight for earthly progress and an important scholar exploring what it really means to be Muslim, using examples of practices and people who are occasionally considered heterodox (outside of the fold of Islam) that lifted me.

It’s a silly example that can only make sense to me, with all the things rattling around in my head. But I’m sure there are others who have similar experiences of different stimuli that converge at the exact right moment they need them to produce a personal mini-breakthrough. I needed that this particular night.

My own e-crisis will remain, I’m sure. I can’t turn it off and dive so fully into my own surroundings and hobbies that I forget about what goes on outside my family, my tribe, my spiritual community, or country. But reframing my thinking and using a “larger anchor” that I had momentarily forgotten have gifted me more acceptance for what might come. And for that I am grateful.

An American State Organized on Fascist Principles

Fascism is capitalism in decay.
Maybe Lenin but probably R. Palme Dutt

There is in our future a TV or Internet populism, in which the emotional response of a selected group of citizens can be presented and accepted as the Voice of the People
Umberto Eco

The past week has laid bare all of America’s growing contradictions. The contradictions of mythical American exceptionalism, late-stage gig economy services capitalism with 40 million unemployed, a pandemic that disproportionately affects people of color with little-to-no federal response, an incoming climate crisis already visible but ignored, consolidated financial capital for the 1% while growing misery affects all of the working class. It is a country that cannot, or will not, provide a social safety net to working people nor appropriate equipment to medical personnel during a pandemic, yet will happily mobilize a militarized police to crush any legal right to voice discontent with widespread violence and impunity. Ironically, it will designate anti-fascism as a terrorist ideology.

While both conservative and liberal media hyperventilate about looting, no one has bothered questioning the heavy-handed actions of the police apparatus as perhaps initiating a response by people looting. In fact, many articles coming out in the Spanish press are praising police taking a knee with protestors. Which is absurd, because thirty minutes after these photo ops, they start tear-gassing again.

Adam Weinstein for The New Republic:

It is time to embrace the parallels, to be unafraid to speak a clear truth: Whether by design or lack of it, Donald Trump and the Republican Party operate an American state that they have increasingly organized on fascist principles. It is also time to consider what else the fascists may yet do, during an unprecedented pandemic, amid unprecedented unemployment, faced with unprecedented resistance ahead of an unprecedented election. The Republican Party wants to make “antifascist” a category of terrorist; whether or not it actually uses active-duty soldiers to round up this new class of undesirables in the “national emergency,” it has at its disposal every police officer who flies a Punisher or Blue Lives Matter flag above the U.S. flag, every armed vigilante and Oathkeeper and Proud Boy who craves the boogaloo.

America is in a deep crisis, and it has little to do with some people looting some stores. Far from the cries of police reform of more body cams, the people on the streets understand that any posturing by politicians with these ideas are totally insufficient. We have past that long ago. We are seeing this level of uprising precisely because the authorities have ignored this for decades.

We have no opposition party left in the Democratic Party, with its means-tested focus-grouped solutions. And the Republican Party has been wholly capture by Trump and his brand of vacuous machismo. These contradictions necessitate systemic change, and it starts with overthrowing capitalism. Vote for whoever you want in November, but regardless of who ascends to the highest office in the land, our crises go beyond the ballot box. Our decaying empire and its sprawling military will still be there if Joe Biden is president. We will still be left with structural racism and a trigger-happy, violent police force that believes themselves to be an occupying force in American cities, because they live in the suburbs. We will still have concentrated capital for a small group of oligarchs that offer shitty jobs with no medical or social protections. It is time to start understanding that reality and act accordingly.

The End of the End of History

The blog Cosmonaut has a lengthy and important article regarding the necessary work to be done in the western imperialist core to stave off 21st-century fascism and neoliberal neglect, especially after the the failed political revolution of the the Sanders left, all in the face of ecological collapse. Read the whole thing.

Regardless of what exigencies arise in the coming years’ political landscape, most of which are entirely obscured to us now, we can be certain of the crux of every political question: ecological collapse. Beyond the most obvious horror of this central question, the high-visibility catastrophes which will increase in magnitude and frequency, the tendrils of crisis will reach outward into every level of our social systems. Drought will spark agricultural collapse, which will cause multiple deluges of human migration, often all at once. Severe storms, flooding, weather-pattern changes, and sea-level rise will render major metropolitan areas functionally uninhabitable. The desertification of regions now devoted to large-scale monoculture or husbandry will disrupt critical commodity chains. This will doubtless cause armed conflict within and between nations.

Climate change is the skeleton key that unlocks the barred gate between us and the better world we struggle for. Every demand we now pursue in the interest of social justice, proletarian self-activation, and relief of sheer human misery will become a critical factor of our social system which has to be radically transformed in order to mitigate climate collapse. This means that any progressive, affirmative program of socio-ecological collapse constitutes, by the very nature of the adaptations required, a minimum program– a suite of demands which, when implemented, create the dictatorship of the proletariat and bring into the world real democracy for the first time. All other potential courses of action responsive to the general crisis coming down the pike are not only reactive and politically reactionary but will be insufficient to the scale of the calamity they respond to. The disastrous, sublime, terrifying situation we are now faced with lays down the gauntlet: we must either overcome our inhumanity and for the first time realize our collective potential, or consign the project of humanity to ignominy and extinction.