Why farmpunk?

A farmpunk could be described as a neo-agrarian who approaches [agri]culture, community development and/or design with an anarchistic hacker ethos. "Cyber-agrarian" could supplant neo-agrarian, indicating a back-to-the-land perspective that stands apart from past movements because it is heavily informed by conceptual integration in a post-industrial information society (thus "forward to the land" perhaps?) The art and science of modern ecological design—and ultimately, adapting to post-collapse contexts—will be best achieved through the combined arts of cybermancy and geomancy; an embrace of myth and ritual as eco-technologies. In other words: the old ways of bushcraft and woodlore can be combined with modern technoscience (merely another form of lore) in open and decentralized ways that go beyond pure anarcho-primitivism. This blog is an example of just that. Throughout, natural ecologies must be seen as the original cybernetic systems.

**What we call for at the farmpunk headquarters**
°Freedom of information
°Ground-up action + top-down perspectives
°Local agricultural systems (adhering to permaculture/biodynamic principles) as the nuclei of economies
°Bioregional autonomy
°Computers are optional but can be used for good—see peer to peer tech, social media for direct popular management of natural or political disasters (e.g. Arab Spring), or the mission of the hacker collective Anonymous

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Making of An American Anti-Prophet (for Profit), and a Healthy Dose of Old World Shadow Magic.


I have a confession to make. I have a love/hate relationship with Ayn Rand. I love her for her ironically buddha-like, hedonistic, cavalier, impishly smug, joke's-on-you-America-trickery, but something about her zeitgeist disturbs—no, saddens—me, and most of all I grieve over the nomenclature of her philosophy, "objectivism", which might have had a completely different (opposite?) effect on culture if it had been called "subjectivism". I find this singular act of Naming to be one of the most profound hexes of our time, a sigil forever emblazoned in the historical consciousness of the late 20th century. The difference between a curse and a spell—between white and black magic—is on one hand in the eye of the caster. But not only. Perhaps she wouldn't agree, individualist as she was, but "black magic" doesn't  proceed only from the magician—his environment shapes his agency, constrains his options, dictates the terms of his survival. He is a slave to it, so what fault of his to summon all the casting power he can muster to transform that which enslaves him? Yes, what I'm saying is, just as Julian of Norwich did in possibly the most compassionate answer to theodicy of all time, "evil is no thing", and what you call "sin" comes from love, too, from eagerness (perhaps overeagerness?) to serve your master, the Beloved, God, the Universe, or… yes, "Mammon". But to someone, once upon a time now past, the dollar could signify salvation, because it could buy you as its newest prophet, and you could be paid to be the Messiah of the Market. Ayn Rand gets demonized by left wing America, but she was a product of her time, and of particular socio-economic circumstances characterized by "pressure differentials" in corruption across the globe—and let's not get into details about what "wing"—left or right—was broken in which place, because let's face it, corruption is corruption is corruption, and poverty is poverty, and abjection is abjection, and it ultimately doesn't matter WHY it happens. What matters it the suffering it causes, because that is where the desire to make meaning comes from (or to make sure that something masquerading as meaning never tricks you again, in the case of Derrida). I come from an unbroken line of Greek socialists and communists on my mother's side, and I also am one generation removed after the translation of that consciousness to American soil. We come from the Balkan Borderlands, the place between Rand's empire and the empire of the West. And for lack of a better way of saying it, there is a lot in our blood that is in a strange sort of communion with Rand, though we might be, according to language, political opposites (but is there such a thing, comparatively? or do rivals only exist in relation to each other?) So yes, we have more in common than not, actually. It's that immigrant ethic, that indefatigable will to survive, to leave unspeakable pain behind, to be born again without God, because how could God have let your family die, your country be torn apart? I see this in my mother, so it's second hand. And there's something tragic about that second-handedness too… it's in the silence. It's a silence that's more full of meaning than language could ever be. My mom's mother was shot and killed while out past village curfew during the Greek civil war, one of the first postwar communist insurgencies in which the United States was pivotal in supporting the right wing junta to oppose, and crush, the threat of communist revolution. My mother, one of eleven, was a toddler at the time. My grandfather had been put in jail for being a communist ("sympathizer") and my grandmother walked on foot, more than a day's walk from her village to bring him clean clothes for his trial. As she made her way back to their village, it began to get dark and she needed a place to stay. Carrying her infant daughter with her, she did not want to risk being out past the curfew in the rugged Peloponnesian terrain, where guerrilla warfare was being erratically waged. Unfortunately, her request for shelter were turned down out of the fear instilled by the communist persecutions (which means, of course, that the people who turned her away knew her). Less than a mile from their home, my mother's mother was mistaken for a rebel combatant and killed in cold blood. Adding to the terrible confusion of this "mistake", my mother's infant sister did not survive the attack, either. My mom is not the most poetic writer of English prose, but I'll never forget the moment I read that line of text, where she wrote that the day after her mother died the family dog ran to the place where she'd fallen, smelling the blood in the earth. The most theological thing my mom has ever said to me was that we all have to bear our own cross, since Christ did, when I told her that I was queer. My mom's not religious, but she's Greek, and Christianity and folk religion permeate that culture. And the responsibility to carry your own weight through life, in a pastoral village on its own high in the mountains, is not just some ancient story or some abstract explanation for human salvation. It's day by day the only way to anything close to salvation—survival.

My mother doesn't talk about growing up in Greece casually, but yet when she does it's chillingly casual. The fullest version of this story I didn't hear from her lips, I read it. On an anniversary of the Iraq war my mother was asked to give a reflection about war at our church, and she wrote 2 or 3 pages, single spaced, and read it at the pulpit. Unfortunately I couldn't be there because, as luck would have it my car broke down that day and I was stuck in the northern half of the state. But I read it later. It was called "Vassie's Story", and it was, plain and simple, the story of the destruction of her family, through that one fateful death. It was the story of why she hates war. It was the story of why, the one time I've seen her cry is when she read that news article about some Palestinians who were killed in Gaza, Palestinians that my mom would say "only had rocks in their hands". The article that was like a hundred other articles, but it's sameness just put into high relief the degree to which this sort of tragedy was mundane. The degree to which, every day, a child lost their mother in crossfire, for someone else's war.

In an article "deconstructing deconstruction" as it were, the post-structuralist historian Gabrielle Spiegel offers a haunting explanation for the post-war Jewish consciousness that gave birth to Derrida and deconstructionist thought, which in the vast ocean of oblivion created by millions of unjust deaths, doubts the ability of language to convey anything about reality, or at least anything that can come close to signifying meaning in face of the chaos of genocide. I don't have this same cellular memory of death, but maybe what I described above is something like it. How am I to know?

Something in me wants to leap to defend Ayn Rand against her detractors—of which I am one, postmodern contradiction that I am—something in there about how powerful women get villified in our culture, as deceptive, too masculine, too independent, too promiscuous, too loyal to a cause. She was a strong woman, yes, but she was a freak in her own mind because she didn't believe in strong women—in fact she didn't really think women should be in positions of leadership, at all. Doesn't that suck? I hate that I can forgive her for laughing in the face of feminism, but I know exactly why she did it. It makes sense that America had to trademark her, because she in so many ways represented The Other. Moreover, I also want to defend her from her business-suit wearing fans, the white male interviewers who can barely disguise their voyeuristic amazement while asking her if she REALLY actually believed that it was okay to be selfish, because she says what they couldn't say. She was foreign, female, and was fucking winning the game, HER game, and they used her to ventriloquize their own fantasies, to resolve their own ethical dilemmas, to do *their* dirty business. Of course, she was a willing victim on the newly-minted altar of post-industrial capitalism—she squeezed a huge degree of agency out of her world against insurmountable odds. She did the American dream better than they did, and they made her into a prophet. Since she was, as I contend, a godless mystic (according to a mix of her language and mine), she emanated pure charisma with virtually no ideological mold for it to flow into. That's pure political power at it's source, and it was like crack for the banksters. But it didn't exactly translate. Her magic couldn't be taught—somehow, it didn't survive translation. It didn't translate because Ayn Rand and her American followers couldn't have been a more tragic combination of different and the same. Sometimes religions die after one generation, sometimes they only have room for one. Call them geniuses, call them schizophrenic or sociopathic, but just don't try to imitate them. In their own way, they were imitating the Godhead in the only way they knew how, even if they call it atheism. In a weird way, Rand was sacrified on the crucible of a new era, and she continues to be a sign for the cognitive dissonance of American culture writ large. But she didn't bring salvation, except maybe to herself, she brought something far more complex —and interesting— than "salvation". A mirror, perhaps, something in disguise. She was like a sage who saw our hearts more clearly than we, and challenged us with our own image. But there's really no moral to the story because it was almost by accident, and her purpose was not to transform, it was to tell. Tell and then on to the next thing.

Ayn Rand, the person and the legend, is an enigma to me. This enigmatic tension, it's like a spiritual agitation, it's a nostalgia for something that could have been, it's the simultaneous tragedy and wonder of globalization, of the waves of revolution shaking the world like orgasms, like death throes, it's the incredible courage and ignorance of people, it's that I wish we could all be so naive, and so wise, at the same time. I wish we never mistook love for hate, compassion for selfishness, the need for belonging with the reflex of discrimination. We DO fail too see language as an arbitrary code of signs, which it sometimes is—not all the time, but sometimes. When I watch interviews with her I get the most profound sense that she was enlightened, in a way, it's something about her expression, it's that sphinxlike smirk of the Mona Lisa that almost mischievously holds back knowledge of ancient mysteries, or even the enigmatic smile you sometimes see in Marian iconography that contains both the spiritual ecstasy of salvation and the deep visceral grief of Christ's death. She is also Pan; the feral god of the forest, symbolically transmutated into the devil (the anti-god) after Christianity swept the land because he is unapologetically lustful, he is at once both passionate and indifferent. He is void of anything we recognize as identity because he came from the dark woods where there were no mirrors, no other Pans-he's a hardcore Other. So, being no-one, in a way he is everyone, the desire in all of us, the shadow counterpart to the holy spirit, Lord and Master of Chaos—once you look in his eyes he'll always know where you are and the only way to avoid possession by him is to become him. Identity is a joke to him because he learned being from mushrooms, trees, and dark red crystals in the ground—dark green things that are constantly dying and being reborn. And so her gaze is satyric, amused, but piercing, unwavering, both immanence and transcendence are in it, both presence and incredible distance, and all these "opposites" exist together, like old people in rocking chairs on a porch, you get the sense she is a master of Orwellian Doublethink, which could be championed for either destruction or liberation. And who's liberation was she seeking, in the end? That's what I don't understand. Was it really ours, the rest of us, or are we hopeless if we're even wondering? I remember in one interview, when answering a question about whether she believed in heaven or an afterlife (and thus the moral directives that it might necessitate), she stated with a conviction pious because of its nonchalance, that life on earth was the most beautiful thing that it was possible for her to comprehend, and that she loved creation, and that it was ultimately all good. At that moment she struck me as inexplicably buddhalike…. the buddha of rational self interest, ironically. Would that be the anti-buddha? And if the anti-buddha, would that not be the same as the buddha? She didn't believe in God or Religion, but she believed in something eternal.

There is something deeply mystical about feeling like it's possible to create heaven on earth, that life is all there is so we might as well eat and drink, for tomorrow we die. Wasn't Paul himself on a knife's edge between proclaiming that gospel and the other one? What made him choose the other one? All the same, for her atheism I don't think one could call Rand a humanist either. A hedonist, maybe. But what is the difference, really, between selfishness and compassion? She would say they are the same. I want to know: Are they? I think when you realize that this life is all you have, and you view it with both intense love and awe yet detachment, eternity and temporality become the same thing, as do many "opposites." For the fact that she is some sort of saint of neo-liberalism, she struck me as anything but attached to this life. She was just an old soul with stories to tell. In a way it just seemed that her philosophy was just her story. It was her life story. She didn't attach too much significance to it... to meaning. In a way it was superfluous, besides the point. It was the signature of another event, like ripples in a pond.

There's something about that disposition of non-attachment, that lightness of being, that seems Eastern, esoteric, atheist and theist at the same time--Hindu, perhaps. Life is a game, divine play. So games are holy because they are games within games. Playing games can help you exact vengeance-and-gratittude for being born into this world of delicious suffering, playing games matches the above to the below, balances the equation. Meaning and meaninglessness are two sides of the same coin. My mom ran away, too, like Rand. That's another story, but the point is she ended up on this side of the Atlantic ocean. To women like this, who are weathered, who ran away, meaning is just a byproduct of survival, so best to not take it too seriously…at worst, too much meaning will just keep you paralyzed, keep you from acting. It's like they are saying, we're not here to save you, we're here to tell you…(and maybe not event that). Don't martyr yourself on a sign….in this world of movement, where we all are native to different languages (not just spoken ones but all systems of meaning) you might just crucify yourself on the wrong cross. I think my Mom taught me that. Ayn Rand didn't crucify herself on the wrong cross, but people did later——WE DID——through the failure of language in the post-modern age. And it's the fucking definition of a tragedy.

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