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.

Internationalist Solidarity from a Village During a Pandemic

Socialist version of Oskar Pernefeldt’s International Flag of Planet Earth proposal

Living away from my country, while always a personal net positive, can be dislocating. Obsessed with bigger ideas and other people’s thoughts of them, I used to retreat to Twitter to check the pulse of what was current in the discourse back home.

But something changed, either in me, my experience using it, or in the collective, that showed me it is not the place I once learned so much from.

Maybe it was the momentum of the Bernie campaign, its rise, the enthusiasm and hope for an uncertain future that it brought to many. Or its subsequent crashing into the full weight of an democratic establishment, recalcitrant to any critique or admonition for something better. Or maybe it was my partner becoming rightfully annoyed at my manic moods in reaction to what was happening online.

Regardless, I took a month away and realized my mood was better, I was more present in my real life, and not as anxious. But Twitter is a good place to make personal connections and I wanted to find a community of like-minded people interested in socialist ideals, especially vis-a-vis the United States. I had started a Twitter account for DSA members living abroad earlier and found some people to create a Telegram channel.

There was no goal. I imagined we get a people together and decide what would be possible while living abroad. Over the months, some of us brainstormed. Do we make a chapter of DSA? An organization that acts as a bridge between continents? A media arm to support Medicare for All and other logical policies such as a Green New Deal? How can that integrate seamlessly into our lives as foreigners in other countries? So we decided to prioritize a social component. For me, this is the best. Because what I crave isn’t some organization that I might become anxious with trying to do something for a country sometimes not in the forefront of my mind, but people, their beautiful ideas and interesting stories, away from places that can’t build solidarity and internationalism like Twitter. So we decided on a social discord server.

The Internationale After Hours Discord

The Internationale
Unites the world in song
So comrades, come rally
For this is the time and place
The international ideal
Unites the human race

While recognizing that the majority of people are depoliticized, those of us on the left can be divisive in a way those on the conservative, reactionary side have never been. We posture theoretical ideologies online and critique those outside of those frameworks. Socialists, anarchists, and communists do not hold any real power, and these ideas, while certainly more acceptable than ten years ago, are still fringe. Our group wanted to create a space of learning and discussion away from somewhere like Twitter that encourages hot takes, calling people or ideas problematic, and looking at everything through a distrustful lens.

Now is the time for internationalist, ecological, and socialist solidarity. I’m not under any illusions that we can solve world-spanning problems, but if some of us can enjoy a space online to talk about these things, it’s something. Going forward and with more people interested, we will produce a mission, a website, and a podcast for our collective perspectives.

I have a lot to learn from people. And hopefully I can also share some experiences and information along the way.

If you’re interested in joining the server, let me know.

A Soviet Dystopia Under Late-Stage Capitalism

This article from yesterday should be required reading. It begins with the latest kerfuffle about some NBA manager’s tweet in support of Hong Kong’s right to self-determination. It should be a given, right? The United States is for freedom (despite hardly living up to that ideal, ever). But capital, the incessant desire to expand into global markets, stomps all over that. We’ve seen it with Apple, the NBA, even Hollywood rewriting Bohemian Rhapsody to remove all references to homosexuality, apparently.

Relatable Brand on Medium:

Late-stage capitalism has this Soviet-esque quality to it, with all its pointless bureaucracy, collectivism, propaganda, burnout, and helplessness.

If capitalism fosters human creativity, then why does our economy produce an extremely limited demand for artists, musicians, academics, researchers, or scientists, but has a seemingly insatiable appetite for corporate lawyers and rehashing the same Marvel superhero movie every six months? Well, if the 1% controls most of the wealth, what we call “the market” is merely a reflection of their desires, and it’s imposed a privatized tyranny on us all.

There’s a lot of talk in the American public sphere about socialism, communism, capitalism. But if, like many say, capitalism is the best system to organize an economy and nation, why does it feel so terrible to so many people?

I’ve heard all the talking points. I’m not convinced. And each day brings new examples of corporate greed, lack of dignity for normal people, and the suppression of freedom, even for rich basketball coaches.