The first duty of a socialist is survival.
The Left as it currently exists destroys people’s lives.
I would like to design a Left that doesn’t destroy people’s lives.
The Left creates people who are completely imbalanced.
And yes, it’s true that already-imbalanced people come to the Left. But that’s not it alone. The Left places infinite demands on people’s time. It asks them to commit more time, more money, more work, more emotion. The Left obviously needs to grow, but in its hunger to grow it begins to treat people more like resources than like people: become building blocks in our expanding machine, not human beings whose boundaries and limits we respect.
It’s paradoxical because we do need to build a machine, in order to create a society where people are respected.
The trick is that a wise constructor of such a machine will realize that a machine built out of people must respect the needs of its parts, and this will actually help the machine function better. It will also be humane in case you’re not a sociopath too. (Okay, we both are.)
Imagine a Left group whose first questions were not, “can you go to this event?” or “can you do this?” but, “how is your financial/work situation?” or “how are you holding up?”
It’s true that this kind of personal confidence can be cultishly exploited, and has been by groups like UNITE-HERE, but that’s not my intention. My intention is not to accumulate information on people — my intention is to refocus the people being asked, themselves, on their own survival and wellbeing, and emphasize this as a Leftist priority.
IF WE’RE SO SMART, WHY AREN’T WE RICH?/SURVIVAL IS A GAME
The first step to changing the world is survival in the most narrow, apolitical sense within the framework of actions you personally can take, which can actually change things in your own life — which is actually quite a lot .
You can change your attitude, for example. I have changed mine and the effect has been tremendous.
“Get a better attitude” is definitely one of the most vomit-inducing things to hear. I’m not telling people to do it because I think they’re stupid, weak, or contemptible, though. I’m doing it because I care about them. Being upbeat literally allows you to notice possible paths and actions you could take that a depressed perspective would have prevented you from even seeing — options for you to take better care of yourself. I’m not asking people to see the evidence for optimism, I’m asking people to be optimistic so they can enjoy the benefits. Yeah, I guess that’s a leap of faith. So try it on and throw it out if you don’t like it.
Marxists should be primarily skilled at survival. Instead our lives are messes.
We have to organize, yes. But what we must mainly do is endure. Most of the class struggle is literally just not fucking killing yourself or ending up homeless. If economics is the base upon which the culturo-political superstructure of a society is built, then your personal economics, health, and sanity are the base upon which the superstructure of your activism is built. That means self-care is political in a very real sense and a lot of groups won’t tell you that or even have a concept of that, or will pay lip service to it while undermining it in practice with constant pressure to the contrary.
We claim to understand every inch of the economic, social, and political system.
You’d think that at some point, some of us would actually exploit that for ourselves.
Marxists love thinking in terms of strategy. Think about the strategy of surviving. Game-ify your life.
Having your shit together is actually necessary to do any organizing, if organizing is indeed something you believe in. And the many flavors of self-care, pacing yourself, and taking it easy are necessary parts of having your shit together.
If life is a game, survival is the ultimate form of it. There are no higher stakes. There is no greater variety of concrete problems and issues than in life. Remember the dual rule of tripping: handle one thing at a time, turn lemons into lemonade, infinite lemons become infinite lemonade.
Think of your problems as challenges, your challenges as puzzles to solve, puzzles as fun things to do, fun challenges as the reason you’re here on earth in the first place. The obstacle is the way.
It’s certainly true that Maslow’s hierarchy of needs works both ways — we need the basics to have a higher purpose, but we also need a higher purpose to motivate us to even struggle to survive. Keep in mind that leftists tend to be heavy on the “higher purpose” — the key is to see both ends as connected, to see survival and higher purpose as expressed through each other.
A LITTLE LESS WORSHIP OF SELF-DESTRUCTION?
Don’t get me wrong — Fight Club was still correct — it is still necessary to blow up your life — sometimes. It’s just also necessary to build up your life. Sometimes having a breakdown and having a breakthrough are the same thing. Sometimes they’re not, though.
It’s about striking the balance between creative self-destruction and healthy self-preservation — or if not the balance, perhaps the alternation? — or if not the alternation, perhaps the synthesis? — or perhaps a little bit of each of these.
Elsewhere I wrote about building a leftist organization that bases itself on politicized socializing. This is still what I think the model should be, but an extension of that is a group where members hook each other up with jobs, help find each other housing, babysitters, etc. Hell, imagine a socialist group that helped people write resumes and practice for job interviews. Imagine if our scene was made of people who were actually well-adjusted citizens of capitalism who held down jobs, who balanced work and play.
That’s difficult, because balance itself is nearly impossible. The dynamics of life are such that all directions are self-reinforcing vicious cycle vortexes and the middle is hardest to maintain. Moderate use of any substance is rough; it’s easier to be going hog-wild or nothing at all. This is why a real mastery of moderation involves the lower-energy mechanisms of alternation and synthesis in addition to balance.
We can be bon vivants who indulge both the Apollonian and Dionysian, embodying the archetype of the Roman god Saturn as both pragmatist and Saturnalian celebrant.
I can at this point in my life understand the indie-hipster avoidance of directness, deflection of intensity, the dodging of sincerity in favor of frictionless irony, more than I ever have before. These are incredible mechanisms for conserving energy. We have to save ourselves for the moments that really matter, and enjoy ourselves in lighthearted-not-fatalistic ways, in between. It is important, however, not to get lost in the deflection, and actually remember what the fuck you actually stand for, and actually remember that amidst all the softness, sometimes it’s necessary to throw a punch, sometimes it’s good to throw a punch, and most importantly throwing a punch is just fun.
In between we can chill, too.