Rethinking My Purpose

Say what you will about the last month and a half (you know, that post-electoral period of time where liberals suddenly woke up to the fact that fascism exists, then predictably made it all about them), but one thing it’s done for me personally is forced me to take a hard look at what my purpose as a leftist is.

I’ve spent most of my time in the last decade hung up on propaganda – here, on twitter, in real life political conversations, you name it. And ultimately, I can’t help but see it as 90% useless.

Now, before you jump down my throat, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be aware of propaganda – of course we should keep track of it.  Tactically it makes sense to try to understand empire’s motives, and it makes sense to try to use awareness of propaganda as a tool to wake people up.  But in the grand scheme of things, cataloguing propaganda is just a tool – it’s not the *purpose* of the left.

I can’t help but feel like much of the activism I used to see in real life has slowly seeped onto the internet; and in-turn has become a chorus of people shouting ineffectively into the social media wind about how horribly hypocritical the empire is, while doing (it seems) much less to actually combat empire.  Facebook has taken over more and more what used to be in-person contact and planning; twitter has become our soapbox; and the services that can’t be replicated online?  I’ve seen so many of them dwindle that I can’t help but feel like there’s a connection.  FnB chapters shutting down.  Showing support materially to the homeless gets replaced by ribbons on online profile pic. Just in general, community solidarity getting sucked into online presences that provide a tightly-controlled-and-advertised-to-facsimile of actual connections.

In short, the internet has made activism a brand to be built up, tailored to every single one of us to feel like our voices are being heard, and that they matter because we sign enough petitions, or boycott enough websites, or hashtag the latest fucking bullshit. Me, you reading this, all of us participate in this. But the reality is that no matter how loud our voices are through the fiber optic cables, we aren’t going to downvote and hashtag capitalism out of existence, anymore than you can stop bullets by yelling at them.

Of course I’m being bombastic here. There is a purpose to cataloguing propaganda, as I mentioned.  There are benefits to connecting with people over the ‘net that we might not in real life.  I get it.  But for so, so many people it’s become the primary way they get their activism on, and it’s a cop-out. And worse, this idea of wringing our hands while we watch as bad shit happens to other people even if we are trying to make people aware of it by exposing propaganda and lies, just means that those of us with high-speed internet connections at the Imperial Core become the online biographers of a death-spiral in the rest of the world.  No blog post is going to stop Israeli phosphorus.

When I was 19 I was in Seattle for the WTO protests.  And while I’d like to say I was there because I was a principled anti-capitalist at 19, the reality is that I was going to meet some friends for coffee (I lived in Tacoma) and was completely unaware of what was going on until I happened to end up in a cloud of tear-gas.  But it was electrifying.  I’d grown up concerned about most of the same things these folks were protesting – my parents were always dissidents to one degree or another, so I grew up more “woke” then most people. But I was a typically self-involved teen, and had never seen street level activism until then. It opened my eyes up to what opposition could really be – people caring enough about <insert issue> to get up and *do* something about it. (Which in retrospect proves how little people listen to their parents, since my mom had told me plenty from her own civil-rights / anti-war stuff in the 60s).

That experience was eye-opening, but it was quickly subsumed by a less-concrete form of ‘activism’: yelling about shit on message boards on the ‘net. Then IRC. Then blogs. Then twitter. After all, it was alluring – it *felt* street level in a way (remember all the talk of grassroots online efforts? The ones that turned out to either be bullshit, or part of a color rev? Yeah). It offered me a way to feel like I was *doing something* with my time that mattered. Sure, there is no fundamental difference in how time is spent on the ‘net, whether you’re talking about the next model of chainsaw you want to buy on your favorite logging message board or snarkily pointing out hypocritical errors in a propaganda website; but the latter definitely feels different because it’s intended to feel different.

I’m not excluding myself from this.  I’m 100% implicated here. I’ve become lazy about my activism, and the ‘net is one of the primary causes of it. What used to feel like this tool that provided me so much has become the platform for my entertainment, my ‘activism’, and my work all wrapped in a neat little advertising supported bow. Corporations literally support my activism online, and yours, and everyone else’s. 20 years ago we might have been able to have non-corporate communities on the internet, but now they’re few and far between, and the ones that exist are probably Fed honeypots.

So I titled this post “Rethinking My Purpose”, and I’ve been doing a lot of just that the last couple of weeks.  I keep starting posts about whatever piece of propaganda infuriates me that day, then I stop and ask myself “what’s the point?”.  What else can I be doing that this is taking time away from?  For me, I’ve realized, there are far more important and concrete things I can be doing with my time instead of being online. And for the first time in a long, long time I’m actually excited about my plans again.

So, with all of that in mind, this will be the last post here.  I’m retiring roasty, years after I should have, but I am. I’m going to work entirely locally, and I’m not putting any of it online anymore.  What’s the point?  I don’t have anything I need to prove to anyone, and indeed it’s bullshit narcissism for me to try to – it’s more important that I use the same privilege that allows me this laptop and internet connection to do something concrete then it is to worry about the lies that the Washington Post feeds the world. In all of my time online, I don’t truly believe I’ve changed one person’s mind about capitalism. Not one. I’m sure I’ve influenced people (or at least I hope I have), but they were people who were already sympathetic to being influenced.  You can’t snark your way to a revolution (at least not one that any of us probably want). I’m going to focus on mitigating harm to people where I can; I’m going to focus on doing something, anything locally to combat climate change (because can there BE anything more anticapitalist then fighting the extinction of 99% of species at the hands of capitalism?)- even if all I’m doing is helping people and animals in the short run, it’s better than doing nothing.

So, one last time, So Long And Thanks For All The Fish – to all of you that have become my friends, you are the major bright spot to spending so much time anarchying online.  Later all, catch you at the community garden.


14 thoughts on “Rethinking My Purpose”

  1. Sorry to see you go just as I got here but totally agree with your thinking. All the best!

  2. If I may make a suggestion, maintaining a snarky blog isn’t necessarily exclusive to doing concrete “real-life” work locally. Perhaps you can transform the purpose of the blog to analyze successes and failures in your real-life local work? And reflect on things happening in the area? (Or maybe just make a new blog for that purpose for security reasons)

  3. Ah, nice, finally.
    As I was strolling around the xmas frenzy across town, some very friendly African holding a clipboard collecting signatures gave me a very strong reaction to my question if his list is of any legal importance and if it is legally binding for anyone in authority. Too many times I saw hogwash signature traps wandering around wasting everybody’s time, all the while we have a perfect system where only 100k signatures at least get the electorate thinking. Every plebiscite entails some change. And maybe we get one who bans outright weapons export, why not.
    But no, there are hundreds of touchy-feely international “campaigns” collecting signatures in countries where the issue is of no relevance – the guy in question was collecting against landmines, in Switzerland, what – while they could just throw the money together and take down each country after another by perfectly legal and open means.
    I hope you’ll post on what you do on some site where others who are truly interested in what you are doing can read about it. This is the only way. Shift information to where it matters.
    “Thank you for your time.”

  4. Sorry to see you hanging up y0ur blogging shoes but really glad you wasted enough time on the internet for us to become pals.

    As you know from our private conversation I’m in a kind of a similar place. I’m really glad you decided to expand your part in that conversation into a blog post because it’s helped me get some clarity. Which kinda argues for blogging when you think about it.

    Anyway, provoked to think on this, I’m less inclined to rule out internet politics altogether, than to think harder on what their best use is. I agree with the implication that we’re top heavy with propaganda parsing, but even there, I would make distinctions in terms of more and less necessary. I frequently feel something akin to panic at what looks like the erasure of radicalism from everyday political discourse. I mean, what has this post-election insanity shown us but how conservative, ahistoric and non-analytical most people calling themselves some form of left or another are? That’s only gonna get worse if there aren’t any counterarguments.

    So I think there is something to be said for both keeping radical analysis alive and pushing back against the the assault on it. While I think I’m personally getting diminishing returns at this point, I don’t regret being part of a coterie of individuals that aimed radical media critique at an otherwise immune pseudo-left because I don’t think we’re at the point of saturation with that. I think phenomena like Edward Snowden, which are genuinely succeeding in reconfiguring dissidence as almost its complete opposite are really pernicious and therefore require an answer. That whole transparency/privacy/Tor/Anonymous/Private Party is a not at all inconsequential toxic swamp.

    Also, absent some hard evidence, I’m not convinced that social media are leeching people away from “real” politics. It’s equally possible that it’s leeching them away from television or video games or overeating. I grew completely disgusted with local Left politics long before I went on Twitter and, if anything, being on Twitter got me back out on the streets from time to time. It didn’t amount to anything but that’s largely beside the point. Surely if people weren’t using social media to incite and organize, the intelligence apparatus wouldn’t be taking such an interest in what people are saying and doing there and clearly attempting to influence the conversation themselves. I think Left politics sucks as much offline as on, which is why I’m increasingly inclined toward community service and animal and environmental advocacy.

    I’m kinda thinking out loud here and rambling on top and that’s rude. So I guess I’m going to close by ratifying what Arjun recommends which implies an argument for a more a tactical, practical approach to online engagement — we talk way too little about how one actually causes positive change — as well as balance between the internet and local commitments.

  5. oh, roasty; bless your heart for your new mission in life, especially: aiming to alleviate suffering in RL as you’re able. brilliant phrases, if i may: ‘we aren’t going to downvote and hashtag capitalism out of existence, anymore than you can stop bullets by yelling at them.’ ‘No blog post is going to stop Israeli phosphorus.’

    i think i understand, and may be a tad envious, but for myself: i’m lame in double-lame mancos (plural of ‘lame’ in spanish), and am unable to get out into the world any longer. so i post diaries in hopes that they may be of some use, but as my mental abilities weaken, perhaps they simply provide a space for others to bring their views and news.

    i can and do still support our kids and grandchirren by phone, tithe lots of food to neighbors, patch and repair things that need it, etc. but i admit, my online life kinda keeps me feelin’ more purposeful, even if my efforts are exercises in futility for the most part.

    when i read again, i saw “I’m not putting any of it online anymore”, but before that i’d thought that i’d offer that if you do want to write up some of your next adventures, you could contact me at the café through the ‘contact me’ category on the right sidebar, and i could easily make you an author there. so…i will make the offer, roasty.
    and thank *you* for all the fish, and everything else, including the honor of including the café on your blog roll.

    i know this isn’t just right, but when i’d read your title, this is the song that pinged for me, and i love it to bits. oh, and thank you, tarzie, for reblogging this, else i’d never have known.

  6. Roasty: I said thanks for the push/reminder over at Tarzie’s place. I’m glad I found you before you left, though sorry it was so recently. Good luck!

    Re Tarzie: “I think Left politics sucks as much offline as on, which is why I’m increasingly inclined toward community service and animal and environmental advocacy.” Yeah, this is sort of where I’m at at the moment and tried to convey in my other post.

  7. Thanks, Tarzie for linking to this great piece. And thanks, roasty, for writing it in the first place. I started a blog in February of this year in order to spare my few remaining correspondents in the States my rants via email. If I wasn’t talking about the joys, efforts, and some of the inevitable failures of organic gardening, the latest culinary success/discovery, the behavior of our local bats or barn owls or any of the other various animals with whom we share space in the country for a good portion of the year, or the pleasures of having definitively left the States, I was treated at best as an elitist dilettante or, at worst, as some sort of proto-fascist.

    It took me a while to decide to begin the blogging thing because so many of the blogs I read were so well written, and I was rather intimidated. But I started anyway, just to get stuff out of my head, thinking, naïvely, that someone might stop by and at the least say something. Alas! In ten months, I’ve had all of two comments. Strangely enough, they were both encouraging. But no discussions ensued.

    So, I’m considering your option, as in the old saying, “Think globally, act locally”, and all that entails.

    But I reckon you’ll be back with news of your local frontier. Please keep us posted!

  8. Greetings from the swamp

    Tarzie reader here, I’ve read some of your stuff from time to time over the years. I killed my Twitter and Facebook (and virtually nobody knows who this pseudonym is linked to!) and honestly refuse to write out of principle because there seems to be a very red problem where everyone wants to write and no one wants to do the work. Shout out to Cordeliers and RK but mostly it’s rife with fakers like Fivek who inevitably compromise and become Jen Caban lite. Who’s Kishenji guys? Who cares.

    So it’s left me pondering this very question despite walking away from it awhile ago. “What’s the point?” is today’s “What is to be done?” I was fortunate enough to find my way into union employment and organizing against gentrification in NYC, it’s concrete, it does set the stage for some greater understanding of radicalism, but it still seems to me that we’re out here treating the symptoms and not the disease. The most radical people I work with voted Sanders and one understood what was meant when I said I’ve been called a tankie.

    It’s sparse out here. Are we really just to sit around and carry the stupid fucking torch of the tradition? Isn’t tradition the bullshit holding us back from anything when I see my comrades dismiss anarchists out of hand because they’re anarchists? Oh heaven forbid the people doing anything do something. I don’t see you guys shutting ports down, it might be chilly out. We might get arrested. “What about Kronstadt?” Who fucking cares? No one wants to discuss ideas, everyone wants to argue dumb irrelevant shit on blogs no one reads, or get distracted by bullshit faux/pseudoleft internet personalities with their personal brands and send messages to the echo chamber about you totally owned that liberal in a Facebook comment.

    Congratulations, that’s modern American communism. You win, CIA. Bobby Avakian salutes you.

    I think my conclusion (sorry too if I rambled) is that if you’re reading this you probably in some way shape or form “get it” and have to go out there and operate on your own and win your tiny victories where you can, especially against aggression towards oppressed communities. Westerners are a lost cause and rather than lead the van will have to be the ones dragged kicking and screaming into the future by the rest of the world.

    So long but I’m really glad you found something that excites you. Anything better than the internet.

  9. Thanks for leaving the Mess on Twitter with the fake Communist corporate trolls running Psyops there… You could of helped but chose to either buy into their games or just leave. It actually is a big deal, given whats going on now, and you could of had a needed, positive, mitigating influence, I sure am tired of taking so much heat for exposing them. Their purpose and agenda is identical to the worst of the worst there.

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