Friday, February 19, 2010

The revolution of revolution, and the rewriting of its violent and tragic symphony

"The Revolutionist is a doomed man. He has no private interests, no affairs, sentiments, ties, property nor even a name of his own. His entire being is devoured by one purpose, one thought, one passion - the revolution. Heart and soul, not merely by word but by deed, he has severed every link with the social order and with the entire civilized world; with the laws, good manners, conventions, and morality of that world. He is its merciless enemy and continues to inhabit it with only one purpose - to destroy it."

-- Sergey Nechayev, nihilist from The Other St. Petersburg, in his 1869 tome Catechism of a Revolutionary. Nechayev--and his deeply fascinating and frightening story--represent the earliest record of a non-state-directed individual or group encouraging, and engaging in, terrorism* as the word is currently defined.


"I felt like putting a bullet between the eyes of every Panda that wouldn't screw to save its species. I wanted to open the dump valves on oil tankers and smother all the French beaches I'd never see. I wanted to breathe smoke."

-- The Narrator in Fight Club (played by Edward Norton), which 1999 movie was based on Chuck Palahniuk's similarly-titled novel, itself a catechism of a revolutionary.


"Sadly, though I spent my entire life trying to believe it wasn't so, but violence not only is the answer, it is the only answer. The cruel joke is that the really big chunks of shit at the top have known this all along and have been laughing at, and using this awareness against, fools like me all along.

I saw it written once that the definition of insanity is repeating the same process over and over and expecting the outcome to suddenly be different. I am finally ready to stop this insanity. Well, Mr. Big Brother IRS man, let's try something different; take my pound of flesh and sleep well."

-- Joe Stack, software engineer, in an online suicide note. On February 18, 2010, Stack is alleged to have intentionally crashed a plane into an Austin, Texas building that housed the local offices of the Internal Revenue Service.


* ter·ror·ism
Pronunciation: 'ter-&r-"i-z&m
Function: noun
1 : the unlawful use, or threat, of violence, especially against the state or the public, as a politically motivated means of attack or coercion (from Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of Law, © 1996)

We can't live in fear. Certainly most of us can't, not every minute of every day; the angels and warriors among us, well, they simply refuse to live that way at all. For the rest of us, though, it's a feeling we know well, even as we also live with those omnipresent and self-imposed reminders that there are things we need to get done. At some point, in short, you have to commute to work and wash the dinner dishes and carry out whatever quotidian tasks you need to carry out in order to maintain the reasonably smooth rhythm of being alive. The time for heeding those noisy demons will be later, when you're under the covers--after the children are soothed to slumber and before the camomile tea or Xanax has kicked in.

Despite the numbing agents and the partial deafness of sleep, the drumbeats of fear are always there, aren't they? Sometimes, for some people, they're too loud to ignore. The drums will mingle with the cacophony of Righteous Anger's string section; then, Helplessness and Despair will add their insistent percussion. And all the while, Media and Culture take turns conducting: there they are, standing at the fore and waving their arms, keeping the strange and horrible symphony going (and going and going).

Terrorism is not the act of a single religion or race or ideology. I submit it is a form of mental illness, an inability to drown out the unbearable; an insufficient supply of Reason's calming balm; an injured or incapacitated frontal cortex; a twist of mind wherein a murderous or destructive impulse overrules the survival instinct so vital to man and species alike.

Restoring harmony--achieving it in the first place, really--will require hard, detail-intensive work on the part of every player.

But first and foremost, we must hold accountable the ones who conduct these violent symphonies-in-situ from their vast electronic podiums; we must point to the men and women with the flailing batons and say, J'acuse. We must fire or replace them; or else, ignore them. After all, they need us more than we need them.

And then, we must do the work. We must address the music in front of each of us, and study its past and present, paying close attention to the clues and tiny directions scribbled in history's margins, and strive to learn--to make, and to make better. We must shun the opportunists and instead share our insights with one another, ever mindful of improving everything for everyone, not just a politically powerful few. And despite rancor and discord and walkouts and tantrums--despite the impulse to destroy that ingnites and often burns away relentlessly in the soul of every creative being when he fails--we must resolve to try, try again.

What we cannot do--what we must not do--is live in fear. And we cannot expect anything good to come from fear's never-ending deployment by the morally bankrupt, the despairing, and the despotic.

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