Sunday, September 12, 2010

Put Your Nose in the Air, Determine Where the Herd is Going, and Head in the Opposite Direction

It is a ceasefire, a temporary cessation of hostilities. Why? Perhaps there is a need to recast strategy, to count the dead, to repair bulwarks, and to sharpen knives. I need to assess this war and determine if anything has been gained, if the aims are still true.

When did it begin? One could say at conception or at birth or when a level of self-awareness was reached. Was it any specific age, or did I just come upon the realization one day? Going from my own perspective, it was definitely being waged in earnest after 1983. For my adversary, I can see that I had excused battles in the past on account of race and circumstance, only to reflect later that these were indeed the first shots fired. I was chased home from school by the colored kids in kindergarten and first grade and spurned or ridiculed by the Jewish kids in Lakewood. I was looked down upon for my poverty, my uncleanness, and my stature in Point Pleasant and in Santa Cruz. I lacked direction, purpose, and any spark of self esteem. There were so many factors that contributed to the war, to its spawning, to its continuation, to its depraved sense of revenge and retribution that at times I was literally overwhelmed by my own burdensome inadequacies. But once I determined that I knew my enemy and that my enemy knew me, it was on. I can almost exactly pinpoint that moment or at least the context of it.

Sixth grade history was where I first learned about the Japanese internment camps. Why this was a trigger exactly, as opposed to any others, has to do with being in school in Santa Cruz. There, in California, you learn California history first, which means you learn about the missions that were built in various west coast towns, you learn about the Native American tribes, and you learn about the states geography. It isn’t until later that I learned something about United States history, and when I first found out that thousands of Japanese-Americans were systematically rounded up and put into concentration camps, it didn’t change what I felt, but instead reaffirmed it. It was as if the scales dropped and I could suddenly see that I was not a solitary victim, but that my enemy, who I now knew to be no single class, no single race, and no single facet of government, was the entirety of all that was American society and that I was but one of countless victims. I realized that I was at war with the United States of America on every relevant level, and that that war had been going on long before the day I was born. When you are outcast, when you are kicked aside literally and figuratively by your own neighbors, classmates, family, and peers, you take a perspective that the average individual never has. You are on the outside looking in, and from that vantage point you gain an appreciation for the dimensions of that society. Aside from that, you discover that all the laws and rules and traditions of that society do not apply to you. Sure, they are there, but when you have been effectively thrown out you tend not to internalize sentiments like patriotism, loyalty, honor, and justice as being attributes of a system you are a part of. Rather, you take these as your own, and on your own terms. I don’t need the Bill of Rights to tell me what I am allowed to do. I am allowed to do whatever I want because I am the enemy of the society. I operate within it as an adversary, not as a compatriot. All of these flag wavers with their red, white, and blue and their glorified pride are aliens to me. They are not “real” people but simple caricatures from a cartoon. The cartoon is comedic at best, the story banal and humiliating, the plot predictable and lame.

And so I waged war. I went at odds with anything and everything about that society. I instinctively took whatever was touted as good and knew it was bad while taking whatever they called bad and seeing to what extent it was good. I was not lazy about this. I learned a tremendous amount about United States history, about world history, and about peoples, governments, cultures, and belief systems. This war taught me to question everything I was told, to be suspicious of those in power, whoever they were, and that as soon as someone or something was being applauded by the ignorant masses to scrutinize it to its deepest and darkest roots. I was skeptical of everything and so I became cynical, sarcastic, cruel, selfish, and stubborn. I led with my sword at all times, waiting for the ambush, waiting for the bomb. And after all of this, when I came to a point where I could lower my sword, wipe my brow, and sit down easy with my back resting against a wall, I realized that all of these fears and doubts were well-founded. I realized that despite my reasons and the factors that contributed to it, this war was just. This war was true. This enemy I had discovered was every bit as evil as I had ever imagined, if not more so. This society of the United States should be fought against, should be challenged, and should be overcome by the will of those who oppose it because they are just in their opposition. Like every human society it is fickle, crude, bigoted, petty, discriminatory, greedy, vain, pious, and ultimately empty. It is a reflection of the very soul of humanity, and that reflection is one of all that is dark, horrid, and evil.

Thus, whenever popular opinion put a stamp on an issue, I first refuted it and then investigated. Whenever a song or movie or artist or “thing” was being cheered by the multitudes, I set myself against it. I was not always correct, but I was always just on account of my purposes. If I am not them and they are not me, what they love I must hate, and what they hate I must love. Well beyond standard education this was the case, and was the reason I took to reading Napoleonic history, to studying Black Power and appreciating it, and to understanding not only the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s but also the Far Right Movement of the same period. The critical point came in 1990 when I was working for my friends father at an auction. In a box of books I came across Revolutionary Notes by Julius Lester. It was a compilation of articles he had written between 1967 and 1969, and the introduction alone solidified who and what I was at that time.

“Revolutionaries are not born. They are made by taking the suffering of the oppressed and making it their own.”

This was my introduction to the Left, to the anti-Establishment groups, radio stations, and voices. I learned and read of Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, George Orwell, Huey P. Newton, and Ernesto “Che” Guevarra. Ironically, however, this was likewise another group. I had officially joined only one group ever in my life that was “political”, and that the John Birch Society. I have since left them, right after their mailer was emblazoned with the World Trade Center attack. The idea of immediately using this horrible attack as a money-maker was sickening. I had similarly canceled my subscription to Z Magazine when they refused to take me off of a mailing list was sending abortion rights information to me. Nevertheless, I was turning poet, and around that time I was regularly reading publicly, waging the war, shouting down my enemy, and undermining his position. I would not allow myself to become officially connected to any group or movement. I could consider myself an ally, but never a "member". As much as there are millions who are set against the very things I am set against, they are not me, and I am not them. I am an army of one and I needed neither recruits or to be recruited.

And then, six months after 9-11 happened, I married a woman I have known for many, many years. The war continued, of course, but today, with four children, a mortgage, and a salaried position at a manufacturing company the conflict has been largely defensive. I am 40 years old now. Some would say I am a very part of this society I am at war with, and in some ways it is true. But for some time it has been more of a low-intensity conflict. It is time to weigh the battles, consider the casualties, and see, after this ceasefire, in what direction I am to go in next. Whether or not I “win” is, as always, irrelevant. It only matters that I know my enemy and know myself—as Sun Tzu would say—and thus have a better chance of success in my operations. But whether I charge forward or fall back, outflank or echelon, there will always be this Society vs. Me.

This is my enemy. This is my war. This is my story.

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