Today I was riding the downtown train back from school to my low-income apartment like I do every day. It’s interesting how segregated people are in so many ways, and never notice; and I mean truly segregated to where these different social and ideological groups are not usually aware the others even exist! So on my ride home, there are two train options; one goes to the wealthy side of downtown, and the other goes to the industrial area where poorer people live.
Today on my way home, as I went to find my seat, I noticed my options were very limited, which is unusual because few people travel to the industrial side of town compared to the northwest area from central downtown– two wealthy looking people with their baby or grandbaby were in the front two seats basically doing a photo-op, with a male partner taking up the space in front of these two seats, crouched down with a fancy flash film camera. Further, they had all their baby shit spread all over the two seats behind them. Anyone who has been in a downtown train knows taking up four seats is a ridiculous thing to do especially during rush hour. One woman tried to sit in the seat where the baby shit was, and they moved it– and then proceeded to snap pictures of the kid with the woman clearly caught in the background. She stood up immediately and relocated herself. I did not. I pulled my hood over my head because I’ll be damned if I move my seat for some rich entitled prick.
Before I got off the train I said “just because you are wealthy does not mean you can come in here and use the train as a photo-op.” Of course in the typical privileged ass response the woman said “are you doing alright because I am concerned.” Her husband said “fuck you,” and she went, “shhh.” Which means what she really meant by calling my sanity into question was “fuck you,” also. Liberals do this all the time, like this middle-class-looking liberal-sounding woman who stubbornly insisted on weaving into the middle of a black bloc at a recent action, while people were blocking up or deblocking. She refused to stop when asked– and says, “No, no! I don’t have any criticisms! I think it’s real cool what y’all are doing!” as she is basically close enough to pick-pocket. What she meant was “fuck you,” too. What these people have in common is a flippant denial of reality: when they don’t want to come to terms with the bullshit they do to other people, they immediately claim they aren’t who they clearly are, or that you must be crazy. These delusions infect every part of social reality, and tie together tendencies as disparate as gaslighting to perpetuate or avoid convenient or inconvenient politicized facts, through to people using “consent speech” to obscure the nature and existence of real consent.
Whether it be nationalists pushing completely inconsistent rhetoric as a method of complete shielding against rational arguments, or whether it be scared suburbanites holding their hands over their eyes and screaming “it’s not me it’s you!” the methods are the same. Beyond just allowing the user of these tactics to slide easily past any verbal disagreement without any accountability whatsoever, it also allows them to call out and indict perfectly reasonable action which may be predicated on the facts the user of the tactic is erasing. This has been used to silence people of color and queer people and others for years, using their anger to discredit them, just like in the “blue eyes/brown eyes” racial equality video everyone has seen.
It can be difficult to remember, because of social programming, that this anger at your anger, counterintuitively, is not an expression of someone’s desire to tease apart the situation, to decide what causes are affecting what effects, to see what variables are dependent on what other variables, or to discover the mechanisms of the phenomenon. This, in the form of the scared suburbanite woman on the train, can be expressed as a concern for your health or alternatively, a plea for you to stop bothering them, to disappear, to go away, to “pull yourself up by your bootstraps,” to “get your bearings,” to “go to therapy,” to “figure your shit out,” to recognize that “no one can be there for you but yourself,” and that you “can’t love anyone unless you learn how to be alright alone first.” All of that is a fucking fat hot load of garbage that flies in the face of all ideas of physical causality. You cannot pull yourself up by your bootstraps, it’s physically impossible. Whenever people use phrases like this, it should be read as: “I don’t want to deal with this, so I’m pretending it doesn’t exist.”
People like the woman on the train who say “I’m concerned about you.” are not fucking concerned. They are erasing you. They are making you feel like you are not allowed to say, “No, actually I am not okay, and you are to blame. We are falling into a dictatorship by the will and the apathy of people like you. We are dying, running away, being locked in cages, starving, killing ourselves and being abused on a regular basis. None of us are okay, and we don’t need to go to therapy. We aren’t okay because you are the problem, you are doing this to us, and you need to own that.”
In a similar way, people who are doting on getting your consent, but not on understanding you, are erasing you. They are erasing your physical reality. People think consent is a bureaucratic form and you get people to check boxes, and sign, so you no longer have any responsibility for the consequences of your actions. “This was voluntary,” they say. “You chose it.” The reason this is stupid, and also flies in the face of all valid concepts of physical causality, is that people do not fucking know what they want, like ever. Have you ever met a person? They do not know what the fuck they want. I’ve personally seen this interpretation of consent be used to convince women that they were not raped, because after being severely pressured and physically barred from leaving for an hour or more, said “yes” to sexual advances. This is not consent, but because the “language of consent” focuses so much on scripted interactions, it is very easy convince people that in fact this is consent, especially people who are not close to radical circles. Another issue I have seen is people thinking that giving consent once means a timeless issuance of consent. This is obviously absurd, but even in circles of the Anar-Kid types, whom one would hope anarchist ethics would rub off on a little, I see this problem just constantly. That’s not to mention the problem of giving consent while intoxicated, which is one of the most pervasive problems in radical scenes that are anywhere connected with music and drinking especially.
Yet another huge systemic problem fed by this phenomenon is the medical approach to what is called “mental illness” in that community. It is nothing more than mundane to propose that people’s environment influences their behavior. People seriously have got to stop acting like people’s problems are always their own fault, and that it is always up to you to fix your own problems. Nah motherfucker, it ain’t up to me to fix the fact that I have compassion and an interest in radical inquiry that sometimes makes me depressed. What needs to get fixed is the world that makes radical inquiry so fucking depressing. And that is more often than not the cause of depression and drug addiction, namely society being hostile toward anything other than the most typical.
Some people think people who dismiss your problems are so used to the status quo that they are basically incapable of thinking they could be doing anything wrong. I wish the behavior of such self-righteous people was a product of something so innocent. I do believe it goes more like “peaceful protest is the only acceptable form of protest because I am so ashamed that I have any critical thoughts or feelings at all that I have a very deep-seeded id-based need to holy myself up in everything I do, therefore since I hate you I will correct my ugliness and become more jesus-like by painting a veneer of ‘turning the other cheek’ over my behavior. Huh? Other people exist and are suffering? Nah, hang on, I’m busy with painting a veneer over my ugly, ugly soul.” You could easily replace “peaceful protest” for the liberal with “acting nice is the only acceptable form of social interaction” for the suburbanite woman, or “working is the only acceptable form of survival” for the asshole who yells at homeless people, or countless other cultural myths could be explained using that template. It’s hard to imagine someone who yells at homeless people to get a job is anything but miserable in their own work.
If that is the sort of thought process that is going on, then it links up all of the mindsets we have been talking about. Each one is clearly reaching for a righteous self-image probably defined by what people around them idolize, and then just smothering every disagreement in it. Read The Fountainhead and try to tell me that is not what is going on. Every damned complicated problem is blamed on The Collectivist Mindset in this he-said-she-said toddler sort of pure insistence. And I liked things about The Fountainhead, alright, so you can believe my analysis here because it poisoned my crush on Howard Roark. It was anti-incentivized.
I think this need, this short-time-scale reaction that instructs people to flail around trying to cover up any possible “flaw” in oneself, to always appear righteous, is probably the most fundamentally selfish behavior. I’d say it is the most prevalent dynamo that stops interpersonal relationships from functioning well– and in that I include its antithesis, the reaction to this: to always blame oneself, to constantly call out one’s privilege instead of act, to resort to self-flagellation whenever anything difficult comes up. We all have friends like this, always saying ‘sorry’ about everything.
In Sarah Schulman’s Conflict is Not Abuse, she talks about the phenomenon of people in conflict arguing about the terms of their argument– who will speak to whom and the like– being the main source of conflict. She says most energy is spent there, and once the parties actually agree to speak and on what terms, the conflict is then well on its ways to solution. The reason why people try to obfuscate their roles by playing games regarding the terms of the conversation is often largely because of a deep-seeded inner shame and fear of being wrong. There is no reason to fear being wrong. It is impossible and undesirable to never be “wrong.” In fact, I contend that if we break down this word “wrong” we will find that half of what we mean is pure mysticism and delusion, and the other half can be substituted with the word “ineffective.” There’s no reason to be ashamed for doing something ineffective, and no reason to fear talking about it. In fact, rooting out inefficiencies would be a cause for celebration!
That is why I think shame for one’s self is actually one of the foundational sources of all human evil. You are not the fleeting, momentary impulses you have. You are not your senses. You are not the things your brain does when you are asleep. You are an even greater abstraction than that. You are the pattern that lies on top of those things in complexity. Your consciousness is not defined by whether it has ever had racist thoughts, or urges against consent, or ever been too angry; or whether it urges to profit off of another’s suffering or has selfish and ineffective desires. Your consciousness is instead defined precisely by how you handle this stimuli. It is defined by the structure you make in your mind to transmute the raw inputs you were handed into something you intend on making and handing back out into the world. That is being a person who exercises their free will, who uses their agency rather than smothering it in reactionary fear.
Shame for the self is the number one reason people deny physical reality, just like the people who deny it’s rude to take up four seats on a midday train in a downtown major city for a photo op for their baby, while people have to move seats because they don’t appreciate having their picture taken without permission. It is the number one reason people can’t listen to others, can’t see facts that suck, and can’t look at themselves. There is no reason to have shame, it doesn’t make any sense. It doesn’t do anything for anyone. And when rich assholes make other people feel ashamed because these other people did the right thing by standing up to their dickishness, it becomes very obvious to any radically aware person that shame imprints itself on people who don’t deserve it, all the time. We should never shame people’s feelings, of any kind. And so if we do not confront shame we are allowing innocent people to be imprisoned by it, and disgusting people to cling to its instantaneous relief through acts of ‘righteousness’ otherwise known as cruelty.
It is because shame plays such a central role that I have always doted on people being willing and able to validate their strengths as well as weaknesses. Unfortunately, it seems like people reduce themselves to caricatures in their intellectual laziness. Leftists are reduced to masochists and conservatives are sadists in the dichotomy game, and so, as the image-based association that stands in for reasoning goes, sadists don’t need to be told about their strengths cuz they’re a bunch of macho assholes. So reactionary leftists go “ADMITTING YOUR STRENGTHS ANYTIME EVER IS A SIGN OF COLONIALISM AND PATRIARCHY DIE NOW.”
That’s not to say people should go around acting on their urges. Obviously fucking not. But they should never be ashamed to admit urges or facts of any kind exist. It is for the same reason that people dote on how they aren’t racist. Motherfucker, everyone is racist, and you can’t combat that if you cannot admit it and you cannot admit it if you are ashamed… and what is worst of all, is that people choose not to resist being ashamed because they do not understand physical causality and they feel personally responsible for shit society did to them. What’s more is that, as a result of this, there is a huge bias in the sample of stories we get from others, because no one ever admits to having been wrong or changed by others. So it’s a giant catch-22 of postmodern instincts ruining the entire world.
Since people cannot believe there is a real objective world out there of which there is only one correct interpretation, they cannot access the idea that their thoughts are often nothing more than a buoy bobbing with the ebb and flow of the ocean, which is external to it. In some sense I believe people are subconsciously aware of this and it expresses itself to them as an unnamed, shapeless terror which they push from their mind immediately: that they have no free will. Just because any activity below a certain threshold when it comes to your thoughts is nothing more than static doesn’t mean you can’t get a signal out of the data. You have free will. It just means you have to try to make sure the things you are doing are actually above the noise threshold. And it does not mean you need to deny the existence of your momentary, bobbing feelings! It is only then that you can generalize about the relevant data and enact your free will, free of shame; and it is only free of shame that you can realize true consent, because it requires a genuine interest in the other person– and not in one’s own righteous ego– that fosters true consent. All resolution is founded on a true understanding of reality, and where there is conflict, this is highly likely to be the culprit.