Attrition: Yet another dispatch on rape culture

None of these thoughts are original.
They are mine, but they are not new.
After so long, the shocks are common currency.
Every response, been done, before I made the scene.
These thoughts are not new, but they are mine.
[do I have to add a trigger warning? it fucking says it's about rape culture in the title.]

In a resistance movement I have been working with, a man I never met attacked somebody else I never met.
I don’t know the details, rape is sexual assault, so is groping, etc.
But the survivor (preferred pronouns they/theirs) wanted it widely known that this man did attack them.

Somewhere else, someone I was close to once, now has several women saying he attempted to rape them. I believe them. But there is not much I can do. They will not say these things publicly, and I can’t come forward for them without doing more harm. I am just glad for the hundreds of miles between me and him.

Here now, the survivor told a group of women that this man I don’t know assaulted them. Some of the other women, through relationships or in political work, had also been abused or harassed by him. Together they decided on terms they wanted him to follow- staying out of certain spaces, disclosing information to certain people, etc. When he broke these terms, at the survivor’s request, the group publicized an open letter explaining what had happened, keeping out the survivor’s name.
Later, the survivor chose to reveal their own name.

Well, fuck, what do we do now? asked the organizers I’m working with.
At a regional meeting, with people from several states in town for a few days to make decisions about all kinds of things, we set aside a couple hours to talk about this, and wound up talking about it for much longer.

Thinking about what we discussed and decided.
Some people wanted to do things that seemed like retaliation against the women who publicized the letter, but that didn’t wind up happening. The man was banned from everything these people are organizing- for at least the next six months- with a group of us, self included, stepping up to work out what to do if he tries coming back after that. We’re discussing future steps with the survivor, agreeing that he won’t be allowed back if they don’t want him to be.
Some conditions under which he would be allowed into things we organize, would only be set up if we and the survivor all agreed on them, and several of us (self included) would rather have him not be around at all.

[Non-linear processing]

I was relieved that the public letter was sent out.
Too often, people do and say nothing for fear of retaliation- or take some kind of action/statement out of the urge to “DO SOMETHING” but don’t center the confidentiality/wishes of the survivor.

This person was willing to come out publicly. If they hadn’t been, I wonder what could have been done. We can’t publicize these things if people don’t want us to, but that makes things more dangerous for other people who could become targets in the future. (How much refusal to openly accuse rapists comes out of fear of being ignored, shut out, accused of lying, or given only pathetic token responses?)

This gets talked about as “how to handle gender violence in the activist community / the radical community.” This framework is kind of a problem for me – more on that later.

It also can’t be talked about as “resolving conflict.” Resolving conflict is not always an option, sometimes you just have to take a side. Also, it seems obscene to me to call it “conflict,” when it has nothing to do with two people mistreating each other. There is simply one person, trying to take part in a movement against (something that hurts and displaces people,) and another person deciding to physically attack them.

This is another thing- The simple, real brutality of what happened, bodily harm, gets buried under endless talk, the reality replaced with the symbols of words, words, debates around “process.” But of course this is something that people need time to talk about, it’s heavy shit to deal with. And yes, I see the limits of shouting, “THIS IS REAL!” when, at a certain point of staring into the awfulness, I too begin to shut down and hear everything as flat abstraction.

The truth is that this man assaulted a person, because he could.
The truth is that other people are going to show up, to join in a movement against exploitative industries, and become possible targets of the same violence if he is around.

A dual nature to all oppressions?
Gender: Institutionally, women are excluded more frequently from positions of power / interpersonally, they’re subject to violence and discrimination from men.
Racial constructs: African-americans inheriting the dispossession of slavery and being denied loans, credit, education that poor Europeans could access / then there’s the white racism enabled by fewer penalties for white-on-black violence.
“Sanity”: The risk of lock-ups, forced drugging, little social mobility / the socially-sanctioned bigotry from the non-diagnosed.

Back trying to think through the “radical community” framework. What does it mean?
It’s a framework within which we can “do something.” Someone is a rapist? This is a space we can exclude him from- creates a sense of accomplishment. If someone we knew through social movements were raped by someone we didn’t know or work with, then, there wouldn’t be much we could do.

And if someone who we knew through political work attacked someone who had nothing to do with us? Here we hit the dangers of retreating from the larger world into a smaller world we imagine to be separate/different.

The position of radicalized people trying to create beautiful things together:
On the one hand, we face the unique problem of trying to live as communal people in capitalist society. On the other hand, we face the same problem that all people face.

*We, like everyone, face problems of: being drained by work to sustain a life, being isolated, being processed through money-based institutions we can’t control, being caught up in violence and power-games.
*We, uniquely, face the problem of trying to build relationships that invert all of this.
So, there’s a difference for us- but it’s not everything.

I’m not mostly-interested in stopping violence in the “radical community,” but in stopping gender violence in the world. How to reflect this in practice?

Not mostly organizing around gender-violence within movements-around [wages/  housing rights/ other issues,] but centering the autonomous organization of women’s liberation for its own sake.

I have this idea: staying grounded in mass-based feminist organizing so that my work against gender violence isn’t JUST about making [a movement about something else] into a safe space. But then… Many mainstream feminist organizations offer me nothing for my own liberation. Class struggle divorced from gender liberation is wrong-headed, but feminism divorced from class war is equally so. I can’t just go out, find feminists, and say, “me and other commies should build more solidarity w/ you” if their goals are still pretty status-quo.

I’m inspired by the revolutionary feminism of people like INCITE! and GenerationFive. They remind me that the point of radicalism is not to identify common interests with other radicalized people, but to mobilize common interests w/ whole castes/classes against exploitation.

An overall goal, that includes stopping rape:
Figuring out ways to support people who use channels beyond the courts to handle/stop all kinds of danger/violence.
Still support anyone choosing to press formal charges against violent abusers. But maybe they find that’s not enough, or maybe they decide not to do it at all.

I want- practices that can be extended to the many spaces where people come together to find meaning in this alienating world. Ways of responding that can help people whose family networks silence them when they come forward about child abuse / can confront sexual assault in church communities, in groups of people who get together to dance or garden or whatever, in BDSM scenes, in colleges, everywhere.

People have their own lives. The fact that those lives intersect with ours in a resistance movement, a subculture, doesn’t give us the ability to “transform” those people. I value working on transformative processes, but it’s ultimately vital to our safety to recognize that we can’t make people change. Sometimes all we can do is protect others from them.

Protecting others within political circles can involve banning violent people from those circles. And it does matter that having a consistent policy of this can mean that people who are newly stepping in to create something beautiful aren’t put at a higher risk of rape because of it.

But those people will still endanger others in the larger world, if not in our smaller world. The biggest danger I can see: when our judgement of someone, for harming a stranger in the outside world, becomes much less than our reaction if they harmed someone in “our” world.

Though the way a few people wanted to retaliate against the letter-writer didn’t happen- there seemed to be a lot more policing-type reaction around that generally- Why did you release it when you did / Write it the way you did / Show it to the people you showed it to?

Which might show a tendancy to want gatekeepers to control the flow of information to the group- but also wanting to control how information about a former-insider’s violence was shown to the outer world. Which may be the basic essence of sectarianism- wanting a sheltered group of trusted people, and treating what happens in that group as more real than what happens in people’s lives outside. This makes people decide it’s more important to control what information gets to the Outside- so as to protect the inner circle- than it is to expose patterns of violence so that as many people as possible can make informed decisions on how to protect themselves.

(Which is NOT to say that these people are a sect, a cult, etc- but rather, that this is a tendency that can emerge everywhere people turn to each other for company and camaraderie and want to, naturally, have a controlled environment for this.)

All policing of how-publicly people can announce that someone else has abused them, and all sheltering news of violence so the outside world doesn’t find out, is diametrically opposed to the world I want to create.

But- it’s difficult for me to even think about how much this did or didn’t happen in this case. Again, the numbing effects of staring into the awfulness for too long tends to make things collapse into incoherence. And the group psychological dynamics that played out are triggering too much of the associated despair of past abusive situations that demanded enforced-positivity from their victims, on threat of further retaliation against anyone who displayed pain. The purpose of those past dynamics- not to stop us from voicing our opinions, but to shame us out of fully-forming our opinions at all. And, fuck, it’s working.

So instead of writing more, I sleep, because I’m not a target. This time. And I’m basically safe. For now. That’s all I really have.

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remember remember

When crashing into the Conditioned World from the Solitary Point- where one was opened to an eternal, numinous timeflow- it is possible, crashing with great speed, to carry that momentum into one’s activities, acting only on one’s truest, individual, most heartfelt sense of importance.

But as one loses momentum, one again becomes susceptible to the speed and rhythm of old social dances- people huddled under their roofs afraid of eternity, and afraid of being-caught-caring, subjecting themselves to internalized, banal rules, forgetting how free they truly are to dance to the alignment of their bodies, celestial bodies, their life energy, all life, all energy-

If I stay too much longer it will be too much like I never left.

Thinking more seriously about bourgeois social-networking businesses as a way not only to turn profit and surveil the working class, but to weaken us in some fundamental way- to increase shame, to displace and trivialize the slow-endless-process-of-becoming,

[blinding with light / noise / the circulation of the same ideas / air over and over again]

Grateful- while back where I slogged through a homeless summer, settling some business before returning to what’s become a sanctuary away from the noise- to have a place to stay without central cooling, without rugs, with one cat and windows open to cool night air carrying cricket song from near, far, further.

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Inheriting The Whirlwind

I promised myself once, I promised myself a thousand times, as a child that I would not run away- from my known life, from my fear, from my confusion and pain- wouldn’t run away to the shelters that adults fled to, putting as many veils of professionalism and distance between themselves and their pasts as they could, until they could safely turn around, smile, and say with complete assurance that what had been torture for them was surely “for the best” for us.

But I don’t think I understood, then, how much pressure there would be on me- I couldn’t imagine yet, the forces that would start pushing me away.

We start out gasping for air, our impossible mission: to make words of the shock of our senses, words that will transmute matter into something else, words that will become deeds that will become stone.

if we were an army
and we believed that we were an army
and we believed
that everyone was scared, like little lost children
in their grown-up clothes and poses
so we ended up all alone floating
through long wasted days or great tribulations
when everything felt wrong-
good words, strong words,

words that could have moved mountains, words
that no one ever said, we were all waiting to hear those words.
and no one ever said them.
the tactics never hatched,

and the plans were never matched,
and strange lonesome monsters loafed through the hills wondering why.

People have been fighting for so long to get free. But this is all so new to us. But we don’t want to let on that it is, we don’t want to sound naive.
I tried to learn from everyone else’s mistakes, when I threw myself into radical organizing, so I could skip the part of making my own.
It  really doesn’t work like that.
But what did happen- I got so bogged down, with the enormity of it-
My god, anything I could say has already been said, anything I could feel has already been theorized a thousand times.
It was a strange sort of futility that leeched into everything.

Now I am looking for work that engages people more as whole human beings.
But there is so much to understand-
A few years ago, after a period of intense spiritual crisis, I wrote about the theoretical diversity of the people around me, and the temptation to look for a “singular truth”:

But what, I asked, if I found myself in a different environment, in a different time or place, where the atmosphere was heavily dogmatic or had some creepy single-ideology shit going on? What if I was living in something more akin to, say, Germany in the era of the RAF, or some other social setting where one could hear the long knives being drawn? ……
We treat [the Jonestown suicide cult] as an anomaly, because, after all, most of us don’t know anyone who’s done such a thing. But the truth is, that could have been any of us. ALL HUMAN BEINGS have a breaking point at which they will accept as sacred truth- not just on an intellectual but an emotional, yes, a religious level- whatever is said by whoever presents themselves as most sympathetic and capable of helping.

Been thinking about this more.

We have to slog through all these conflicting histories that aren’t our own, and decide in spite of that which ones to take up as our own, and how- If we want to get anything done, anyway.

For instance. I write now because I feel uprooted and homesick for places I have never known. I write because I want to sort out my thoughts in a place where I might get feedback on them. I feel that I have exhausted myself in the ongoing chaos of my life and allowed myself to lapse, back into being more part of imagined communities than real ones.

I want to get past this. I want to be rooted in action and discussion and study, with people with good ethics and solid analysis of the sources of social power and how human life could be reconfigured. Right now the thing I am most drawn to, that I feel would be the most helpful and educational, is to relocate to somewhere that has a strong current of revolutionary feminism going on.

But now, see, if I say “radical feminism” that means something different. That means this other movement that I wasn’t alive for most of, with its specific organizations, ideologies, and so on, that carried really fucked-up ideas towards transgenderism, reactionary treatments of pornography, and hugely unhelpful stances towards the liberation of sex workers, among other things.

So then I have to distance myself from all that and clarify my own stances on those things. When all I really meant to say was “feminism that is radical.” But then I guess I can’t just say that either, I have to explain what that means to me. To me it means freeing people from any social status determined by biology. As well as centering the conditions of those who have been most marginalized- and a militant opposition to any alienation of people’s power- any taking-away of our ability to think and act, and forcing us to use it to build a world of someone else’s design.
But I can’t just say what I want, I have to take up the language of extant social movements and define my position in relation to them, if I want to be effective.

I’m trying not to write like a pretentious shit.
When I was living in a tent I was reading the COINTELPRO Papers, thinking about how much revolutionary waves are shaped by the repression of those before them- the Palmer Raids and associated programs against the Old Left poisoning the public consciousness, defining the intellectual environment the people came-of-age in, who became the New Left. I guess I should learn what their encounters with theory were, I’m naturally curious anyway about tracing the history of ideas. And how in the later 70s, shaped by ramped-up death-by-hard-drug campaigns against the black and poor, and other ruling-class terrorism, the relationship changed between official radical organizations and loosely-defined communities of common interest / working-class consciousness. And I guess I should study what’s so damn important about What Happened After Seattle. (When the actual street fighting went down I was a nine-year-old living in my own private hell on the east coast, and when I learned about it later- I guess, finding it a bit silly to focus on “globalization” or “neoliberalism” as separate from just plain capitalism, I’ve always rolled my eyes and gone, “yeah, okay, just let me get to the real stuff!” But I guess since it changed the U.S. radical terrain I shouldn’t ignore it maybe.)

But I’m not “coming out of” a Marxist tradition, or a class-struggle anarchist tradition. Decolonization was the first language that made sense to me, because it intuitively felt like making-space, but I’m not coming out of postcolonial theory either. I’m coming out of a precarious family arrangement centered in a small suburb in the northeast, I’m coming out of years and years dominated by useless reactionary “theraputic” situations, swarms of naive liberal teachers and vicious children.

This is what ive been
trying to say—if you
attack the structure—
the system—the establishment
you attack yourself
& attack if you must
challenge yourself externally

but if you want a revolution
return to your childhood
& kick out the bottom

be able to change
yr own internal chemistry

walk down the street
& flash lights in yr head
at children

this is not a game
your childhood
is the foundation
of the system-

I would like to finish reading This Bridge Called My Back when I can. I haven’t been processing written information all that well but the essays in the section called “Roots of Our Radicalism” seemed especially resonant-

And this is where I repeat- that I don’t only identify with conscious anti-capitalists. There are lots of communists who are perfectly good people but whose motivations are far different from mine- which took me a while to understand. And I’m returning to how very important it is to see each other at the level of most-basic intentions, most-basic desires. Which I sometimes find that I share more with non-politicized people, and we recognize each other as fellow travelers.

But I need the company of revolutionaries, I need people who can join me in picking apart dominant discourse, just because there’s so much of it, I need people who delve into the same studies as me, to examine how the fuck we got here so fast, and what has historically been shown to be effective for getting us somewhere more free and human.

So what am I really recommending that we do? Since we want to root ourselves in processes and ideas beyond our immediate, subjective experience- but don’t want to trust outside forces, even forces of liberation, to *represent* our experiences, and we don’t want to lose ourselves in the historical baggage of the resistance movements we inherit- so tangled, so contradictory, born under such enormous pressure, so often bearing  such deep birthmarks and scars of the old world even as they struggle to breathe the air of a new one.

Do I think we should just spend more time talking to each other about how we came to our different visions of liberation, and how that journey changed our relationship to the communities of our origin? (Communities in the most utilitarian sense of people we shared our time and life and work with, those we were maybe expected-to-be-like, but not assuming any positive attachment.) I think about intentionally bringing people together for the purpose of exploring this, something like the model that feminist consciousness-raising circles used. But then I think such structure might wind up being just more insular talk in radical subcurrents already struggling with isolation. Definitely, though, I think this is a major thing we should take the time to examine.

Myself, I remember only a huge tangle of betrayal- constantly screaming trying to throw off something that writhed under my skin like a faulty blood transfusion, every cell in my body rejecting it and trying to get the wrong-thing out. Being unable to find either language or co-conspirators– and to conspire is only to breathe, together, is the only alternative to asphyxiation. I still haven’t made full sense of it, letting its unprocessed shadows lapse into a kind of mythic Back There. But I’ve carved a niche for myself and gained confidence in my ability to defend people’s autonomy.

Still- as the immediate urgency faded- as I found my footing and breathed a sigh of relief, that I could at least do something right- have I substituted the possible goals of social movements for my own goals? (Which were much scarier because they had felt so impossible for so long, because they were so weighted down with the establishment accusations of infantile madness, and because they seemed less defensible because they lay beyond the province of speech.) I think, to a degree, I did- but once this is recognized it can be remedied.

Again, we are thinking-things that need maps to survive- creatures who could not stop theorizing if we tried. But theory has limits to its usefulness, and if we want to help each other get free we should accept that limit- the point beyond which we can only say that if something feels wrong it probably is.

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do i come back here?

those were my swiss chard seedlings up there from a long ago garden.

you know what? i had some damn good ideas.

things were just too steep, the gradient of the learning curve- i got vertigo looking at things i recently believed.

it was so much to sort through, it took a long time to come back to what i was before.

and i’m grateful that i’m not what i was. it’s all so very strange.

right now i have heartburn and greasy hair and no steady place to live.

maybe i come back here.

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a story for us all

In the beginning- there was the Land. The dark and the light chased each other around it, night and day, and the water ran over it. And under the land, and in the hearts of its caverns, there was Yearning. It pulled towards the light, when there was light on the Land, and gathered in the water. And here in the water, it yearned to live, and became Life.

And so life swam through the water and spread across the land, as all manner of running, flying, and green-growing things. It lived in the light, but when the darkness came, most of it died, and that which was left grew again when the light returned. But this life, which was the distillation of Yearning, grew tired of always dying and having to create itself anew.

Some of these Lives that ran on the land stood up, on just two legs, and walked across the earth. Eventually, these lives turned their ears up towards Far Space, beyond the cycles of light and darkness, and heard the voice of an Immortal. “You lives that stand on two legs,” it said to them, “Don’t you wish to be without death, as I am? Why don’t you come and do my work? Then you will lose your ignorance, and gain my immortal nature. Then you will not merely be one more group of creatures from the caverns under the water, but rather, you shall be Mankind.”

These people, like all Lives, yearned to live and not to die, so they did what the Immortal asked. They walked among the green-growing things, and found the ones that bore the most fruit. They cleared the life from large squares of the Land, and in these squares they planted rows and rows of these plants for the Immortal. They toiled all day, and became exhausted as never before. But when the darkness came, they did not die. And so they lit fires and sang, rejoicing, in the dark.

As time went on, the Immortal began asking the people to do more things. It asked them to build altars in honor of it, which they did, and then it asked them to build it castles. By this time, most people lived through many cycles of light and darkness, unlike their ancestors, and unlike the other beasts on the land. But eventually, each person still grew old and died. So when the Immortal decided that these castles were not enough, and asked the people to build it a great throne, a woman named Memory said, “But we are tired, and doing your work has not done what you said it would. It has not made us immortal.”

The people heard her, and knew that this was true. But they lived longer now than they would have before, so they said, “Things are better now. We cannot go back to following the old ways, living like ignorant beasts, destroyed by every change of the light!”

So they began building a great throne, which stretched so far up into the sky that its legs were ladders. By this time, the people were working so much for the Immortal that they no longer had time to get their own food, so some people were sent out to grow food for the rest. The other people gathered around the feet of the ladders, many living in crowded settlements at the bottom. These became flooded with waste, and so the people began to build huts upon the rungs of the great ladders they were working on, whose sides were like tree trunks. They would fight each other for the chance to keep their huts on the higher rungs, trying to get away from the sweltering ground settlements. At the top, they began to think, there must be the answer to their yearning, something greater: the favor of the great being they were working for, and its immortal nature- which maybe they could get for themselves- something eternal, beyond the cycles of death and confusion on the ground.

Some people did indeed get to the top of the ladders, and peered out into the bright clear skies, and felt themselves favored by the Immortal. But others, getting there, looked up and saw nothing, nothing to counter the emptiness, looked down and felt a terrible vertigo, and let go, falling in the crosswinds.

One of the people who made it to the top was a man called Clarity. He was Memory’s grandson. He got to the top and he looked down. He saw the land, in some places marred by the construction of pointless castles, but in many other places beautiful and full of green-growing and running things, and in them he recognized something of himself. He, as others, sensed an unspeakable loss, but he decided to speak nonetheless.

So he climbed back down and walked into the middle of the ground-settlements, full of people eating and trying to do washing in the midst of the decay. In them, too, he saw beauty, and he said to them, “My people, who curse the day, trapped beneath these ladders, I have been to the top, and I have seen that there is nothing of beauty there. But I saw all the rest of the life of the Land, which we pride ourselves as being wiser than.

“But know now: The rest of the living things are not ignorant- they know their own nature well. They know they are the children of Yearning. We, meanwhile, fight to get to the top of this structure, but there is nothing truly divine there. If we wish to lose our own ignorance, we must stop being servants of the Immortal. It has not made us without death, and it will not make us so. It has not even made us lose our own ignorance. The only thing we have lost is our sense of wonder, which perishes in this place where we are pitted against each other.”

By this time a large crowd had gathered, and a man who worked a few rungs up had come down. He had never advanced very far, but had worked tirelessly. To the man called Clarity, he said, “Does this mean we will go back to dying each time the darkness comes?”

“No,” Clarity replied to this man, “For the toil that we have done for the Immortal, by which our lives are extended, could just as well be done for each other. We can build a society of people where we are not pitted against each other, and our wonder is not destroyed.”

Then a woman spoke to him, saying, “I cannot trust that your plan will work. I wish with all my heart that we were not building things for the Immortal, but I fear we cannot, at this point, go back to the Land and regain our innocence and wonder as they were before.”

“You are right,” he answered, “Things will not be as they were before. Our love and wonder, destroyed and reborn, will not be like that of the other living things, for whom it was never lost. We have many memories of destruction, and it will take a long time to get out of the shadow of the Immortal. But in working to get there, we will gain wisdom. We will gain knowledge of good and evil, and then we will be innocent, for we will know how to defend the good, and not be guilty of allowing destruction to prevail.”

Then the man who had come down to hear this spoke again, this time saying sadly, “Is this the path our people will take? What a defeat it is, if we are giving up our quest to gain immortality. Then it means that all of our striving has been in vain, and there will still be death.”

Clarity said, “True, but we are, after all, the children of Yearning. We desire light, and yearn to live and not die. But if we gained all that we desired, with nothing more to yearn for, then our sense of wonder would be permanently destroyed, for beauty comes in the contrast of light against the darkness, and life against death. If that contrast collapsed, we would all be worse off than any of us are now.”

And the People heard this, and knew that it was true, and set out to live free from the Immortal. But they had become dependent on the Immortal’s food and the Immortal’s stories, and so their journey has not yet been completed. And here we find ourselves, in the balance, keeping on towards the land called Home, where wonder is no longer marred by the shadow of any thrones.

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