Patriotism

In 1960 the Japanese author Yukio Mishima wrote the horribly beautiful story “Patriotism.” There is no possibility of ‘spoilers’ in this review, because it is announced on the first page that this is the story of the ritual suicide (‘seppuku’) of one lieutenant Shinji Takeyama (and we are also told, almost as an afterthought, of the accompanying suicide of his wife Reiko). The action of the story takes place in 1936. In a nutshell, the lieutenant has just been informed of a failed mutiny against the Emperor, to whom he is loyal, that was perpetrated by men to whom he is also loyal. He knows he will be called upon to suppress the mutiny and fight and kill his erstwhile comrades, an untenable situation. Fortunately, his culture provides him with a way to deal honorably with untenable situations—seppuku.

The entire story takes place in Takeyama’s home, and involves the preparations he and his wife make to end their lives; their rather intense relations leading up to the act, in which everything is done by the book, as it were, but there is still plenty of room for passion and steamy sex; and, of course, the grisly act itself, which is described unflinchingly, without romanticizing the mechanics of the thing or the necessary human frailty involved in carrying it out. The story has been quite aptly described by a friend of mine as “fascist pornography.” It is told without any irony or attempts to undermine the motives or honor of its characters; in fact, Mishima was to commit seppuku himself ten years after writing the story. The general feeling conveyed is a sort of grim exaltation in the face of fate.

In 1960 the Japanese author Yukio Mishima wrote the horribly beautiful story “Patriotism.” There is no possibility of ‘spoilers’ in this review, because it is announced on the first page that this is the story of the ritual suicide (‘seppuku’) of one lieutenant Shinji Takeyama (and we are also told, almost as an afterthought, of the accompanying suicide of his wife Reiko). The action of the story takes place in 1936. In a nutshell, the lieutenant has just been informed of a failed mutiny against the Emperor, to whom he is loyal, that was perpetrated by men to whom he is also loyal. He knows he will be called upon to suppress the mutiny and fight and kill his erstwhile comrades, an untenable situation. Fortunately, his culture provides him with a way to deal honorably with untenable situations—seppuku.

The entire story takes place in Takeyama’s home, and involves the preparations he and his wife make to end their lives; their rather intense relations leading up to the act, in which everything is done by the book, as it were, but there is still plenty of room for passion and steamy sex; and, of course, the grisly act itself, which is described unflinchingly, without romanticizing the mechanics of the thing or the necessary human frailty involved in carrying it out. The story has been quite aptly described by a friend of mine as “fascist pornography.” It is told without any irony or attempts to undermine the motives or honor of its characters; in fact, Mishima was to commit seppuku himself ten years after writing the story. The general feeling conveyed is a sort of grim exaltation in the face of fate.

The title in Japanese is “Yukoku,” which apparently means something like care or anxiety for one’s country. In any case, “Patriotism” is a perfect title for the story, with its connotations of homeland, loyalty, and even patriarchy. The essence of the story is expressed quite clearly in the following passage; Takeyama and his wife have just finished having sex for the final time, and a calm and dreadful certainty settles over them:

They had both sensed at that moment—though not, of course, in any clear and conscious way—that those permissible pleasures were once more beneath the protection of Righteousness and Divine Power, and of a complete and unassailable morality. On looking into each other eyes and discovering there an honorable death, they had felt themselves safe once more behind steel walls which none could destroy, encased in an impenetrable armor of Beauty and Truth.

Morality, honor, steel, armor, power, truth—this is a sort of fascist pornography indeed, although, if it is nothing if not consistently earnest, it manages to avoid any hint of kitsch.

In fact, if there is hint of nostalgia or doubt, or any sense that the domain of truth and beauty is less of an impregnable fortress than it may appear to be in the quoted passage, it does not appear within the story itself, but rather in the fact that the story was written at all. Although the story is about a sort of patriotism, few words are wasted extolling Japan, its emperor, or its soldiers; instead, the patriotic connection is more with honor, loyalty, and patriotism itself than with any specific object of fealty. Partly, no doubt, this is because any code of honor is in some sense self-regarding, holding honor itself higher than any mundane imperatives. Nevertheless, a declaration such as this one inevitably comes with a question mark or two, whether or not these are actually inscribed within the text. It is not simply that this affirmation of honor and truth comes against the backdrop of global capitalism and is thus politically coded in a certain way, which I have followed my friend in calling ‘fascist.’ The issue isn’t simply what is being affirmed here, but when and why. Mishima is defending the fort against the incursion of a global culture of monetary, rather then moral, values, and this means the central paradox of the story is that a putatively impregnable fortress must be defended at all.

There are several reasons why “Patriotism” is such an aesthetically satisfying story, not least because it describes a way of life that doesn’t distinguish between ethical and aesthetic considerations but recognizes their deep, underlying unity; furthermore, it’s written in lapidary, gripping prose that displays a very high degree of both sincere commitment and masterful artistry, all of which keeps it from stumbling into the sort of hilariously didactic tar pit in which the bones of Ayn Rand are perfectly preserved. And it’s hard not to feel a yearning pang for the sense of meaningful belonging expressed in Mishima’s story. However, the sort of question I am interested in here is less personal and ethical than social and historical. This question is one of belonging, of some sort of homeland and what and where it may be. This is precisely the question put most succinctly by Heidegger when he asks: “What is the nature of dwelling in our precarious time?”

It is no coincidence, of course, that Heidegger himself was attracted to fascism, infamously joining the Nazi party in 1933. Fascism is one possible reaction to the relentless razing of every homeland that goes by the name of global capital. But Heidegger’s thought cannot be reduced to an apologia for his execrable political decision, although it is clearly not unrelated to the latter either. But he came to see the only type of authentic dwelling available to contemporary humanity as a sort of becoming at home in homelessness. Heidegger himself was able to maintain a very fervent kind of patriotism for the nebulous homeland of human homelessness, which (along with his period of allegiance to Nazism) has led many to see him as embracing a sort of parochial localism, without noticing that his patriotism was for a ground that is groundless and uproots as much as it grounds. But this kind of patriotism is much harder to muster than the type that impels Takeyama and Reiko to gut themselves in Mishima’s story.

If fascism is partly a reaction to capitalism that tries to violently reaffirm local and national ties, at least rhetorically, then communism insists that the wasteland itself can be made a home, seeing in capitalism an unpleasant precursor to a social form that is global and universal, but that nevertheless shucks off the traces of value production and the institutions that secure the dominance of capital. In that case, in some ways Heidegger is closer to communism than he is to fascism, and indeed although he cravenly joined the party and mouthed some of its more deplorable slogans, in the end he was never able to accommodate his thinking to a regime that held him in deep suspicion by the time of its final years in power.

In any case, critics of capitalism, when seeking to envision an alternative, are faced with a decision: not a simple choice between Nazism and communism, of course, but a choice that is not as easy, or as clear. This is the alternative between locating a homeland in the old way, on a smaller scale and with a group that is, in whatever way, clearly identifiable and distinguished from its neighbors, and a global social entity of whatever kind, however loosely defined or held together. The situation that any social critic is faced with, in other words, is homelessness and the meaning of the home. Posed more concretely, this is the question as to whether the liquidation of fixed meanings, rituals, and social hierarchies that capital brings is a lamentable obstacle to a healthy social body, or whether it in some way lays the ground for something new. This does not have to be posed as a choice between nationalism and internationalism, and thus can be separated from the question of whether the productive structures and institutions of capitalism can be adapted to a socialist framework, or whether they must be somehow abolished. No matter the answer, it is Heidegger’s question that must be addressed: “What is the nature of dwelling in our precarious time?”

All Power to the Commune of the One!

In honor of our good friends over at MIM Notes Movie Reviews We offer this contribution to the growing body of anti-Imperialist interrogations of the superstructure. We review Iron Man 2.

As we complete our “scientific review of each existing work in the whole world” you might be surprised at how often the story of our class is told. The storytellers know what we, the oppressed, the workers, and the hungry want to hear our story: the story of how we will win.

We will be the triumphant victors of the future and we will defeat all counter-revolutionary forces in the creation of a stateless, classless society. True Communism. Lovely Anarchy!

In honor of our good friends over at MIM Notes Movie Reviews We offer this contribution to the growing body of anti-Imperialist interrogations of the superstructure. We review Iron Man 2.

As we complete our “scientific review of each existing work in the whole world” you might be surprised at how often the story of our class is told. The storytellers know what we, the oppressed, the workers, and the hungry want to hear our story: the story of how we will win.

We will be the triumphant victors of the future and we will defeat all counter-revolutionary forces in the creation of a stateless, classless society. True Communism. Lovely Anarchy!



And how, pray tell, does the second story of Iron Man fit into this trajectory? It is our story through its daring use of metaphor.

Tony Stark is the proletariat, the intelligence of the working class, under siege from the bureaucratic forces of the existing order as represented by Senator Stern, who would control the forces of revolutionary violence. He represents the contradiction between loyalty to the class-in-itself (the fruits of the workers labor), and the-pressure-of-nationalism-on-the-most-reactionary-element-of-the-class-by-the-bourgeoisie.

Pepper Potts is the voice of the libertarian proletariat: nervous that the historical moment for TS (aka the people) is quickly passing while the concerns of oppressed minorities haven’t been reconciled. Potts, USAF Lt. Col. James Rhodes, Nick Fury, and Natalie Rushman are all expressions of the work that the people need to do to reconcile the power of the oppressed with the mission of the class as a whole. As one they demand the victory of the future commune through sobriety, historical revision, political challenges to bureaucratic forces, and class consciousness through clear identification of class enemies and their lackeys.

In Iron Man 2 these forces of counter-revolution are represented by Justin Hammer and his puppet Ivan Vanko. These “whites” demonstrate the kinds of coalitions that the forces of repression are willing to endure (American style crony-ism and the backward Soviet-era strongman) to suppress the forces of the future commune. The combination of high-tech wizardry (Hammer being a Pentagon funded arms dealer) and traditional social roles (Vanko representing the alpha male of a patriarchal fairy tale) develop important themes in recognizing reactionary elements in apparent working class characters.

The story of Iron Man 2 is a simple and ancient one. When the proletariat demonstrate their power-as-a-class in the first film the internal counter-revolution begins, first by the attempted commandeering of the Iron Man prosthetic by the Senate. By the attack of the proletariat from within due to the contradictions of leadership during times of crisis (as represented by palladium poisoning in the arc reactor of Tony Stark). Finally by the external forces of repression as represented by “old style socialism” (Vanko) that has not learned to embrace the contradictions of late Capitalism and technological centralism.

The attempted co-option of the Iron Man suit is defeated through the course of the film by the clear demonstration of the class as the actual active agent of social order. The contradictions of Hammer as Capitalistic excess and Vanko as the one-dimensional socialist realist heir to the Soviet regime cannot compete against the power of the reconciled class. The power of Tony Stark as proletariat and James Rhodes aka War Machine aka the oppressed people of the third world aka the internalized colonies of the first world combined tears asunder the forces of combined counter-revolution.

The poisoning of the proletariat is resolved through the disciplined study of the canon of liberation (Tony Starks father’s film) and the scientific inquiry that only the proletariat is capable of. The creation of Ununoctium, of which only a few atoms have been synthesized to date, is portrayed in the film as the seeming magical combination of technics and inspiration but should instead be seen as the probability of what proletarian design is capable of if it were not fettered by the condition of exchange value extraction on behalf of the moneyed classes. Ununoctium is the expression of how the people’s science is the only way to resolve the capitalist math of resource extraction, information control, and repression of the social body.

Finally the new proletariat and coming commune are shown to resolve the contradictions of Socialism as capitalism recomposition and of Capitalism as crony Capitalism. Vanko demonstrates his disdain for his own class interests by personifying his critique of the existing order in terms of Tony Stark (the people) rather than recognizing the systematic ways in which he and his family were exiled from their power. Similarly Hammer demonstrates that Capitalism IS crony capitalism by his ever-present representation in the halls of power and the slap on-the-wrist nature (high profile, media manicured, but ultimately empty) of his punishment. The class meets this combined foe through cooperation, a disciplined analysis of current conditions, and truly democratic centralism. The commune has the strength of the collective, the intelligence of genius, and the will of a thousand years of chained spirit.

If any weakness of Iron Man 2 exists it is that the forces of counter-revolution show themselves to be too weak. We know that repression sets the terms of conflict, hides its contradictions, and attempts to ally itself with the weakest elements of the proletariat through its own organizational intelligence. The lesson to draw from this is the same lesson to draw from any super-structural form. Our dialectical prowess and ability to dissect the contradictions and communicate that knowledge to the class-as-a-whole is our greatest strength and our greatest weakness. As the commune of one we grow and become the commune of all!

Outsider Anarchism

a review of METAtropolis, edited by John Scalzi

Five award-winning science fiction writers got together, wrote a shared-world fiction anthology that explores explicitly anarchist solutions to the world’s problems, and then got the cast of Battlestar Galactica to read them as an audiobook. And the anarchists, by and large, took no notice.

METAtropolis–released as an audiobook in 2008 and finally reaching trade paperback printing only this year in 2010–is a fascinating piece of outsider anarchist fiction. The authors are not consciously political radicals, but they are clearly inspired by the possibilities of autonomy that have been opened up in the 21st century. I would guess that not a one of them has read Bakunin, Rolling Thunder, or anarchistnews.org; they’ve struck upon the idea of mutual aid economics and horizontal structuring largely in a vacuum. They’re completely unfettered by the assumptions that so many of us carry with us at all times.

a review of METAtropolis, edited by John Scalzi

Five award-winning science fiction writers got together, wrote a shared-world fiction anthology that explores explicitly anarchist solutions to the world’s problems, and then got the cast of Battlestar Galactica to read them as an audiobook. And the anarchists, by and large, took no notice.

METAtropolis–released as an audiobook in 2008 and finally reaching trade paperback printing only this year in 2010–is a fascinating piece of outsider anarchist fiction. The authors are not consciously political radicals, but they are clearly inspired by the possibilities of autonomy that have been opened up in the 21st century. I would guess that not a one of them has read Bakunin, Rolling Thunder, or anarchistnews.org; they’ve struck upon the idea of mutual aid economics and horizontal structuring largely in a vacuum. They’re completely unfettered by the assumptions that so many of us carry with us at all times.



This isn’t to say that they’ve created utopias, or that the societies presented in METAtropolis deserve to be copied and pasted into a “traditional” anarchist context, only that these outsider pieces are useful–in showing us that there are many roads to anarchy–and fascinating.

The basic premise of the anthology is to explore–or perhaps explode–the concept of cities after the collapse of most of the tenants of western civilization, but not after an apocalypse. After an economic and governmental collapse.

The first piece is perhaps the most obvious example of the contradictions and the sordid beauty of a naive look at anarchism: Tyger Tyger by Jay Lake describes eco-anarchists who live in the forests of Cascadia. They are technology workers, genetic engineers who’s main cultural export is open-source genetic code. They’ve got a slight bit of military hierarchy and they’ve got torture chambers for their political enemies. Their borders are closed and fiercely controlled. Not the sort of piece that a classical anarchist would write.

Elizabeth Bear describes a scavenger society built on reputation economics, a new-world-in-the-shell-of-the-old culture of recyclers and communists who’ve never read any Marx. But she also gets at the heart of what is being offered in the anthology: no author is trying to blueprint a utopia. One character in Bear’s story points out: “It’s not a utopia. It’s just maybe something that sucks a little less.”

Tobias S. Buckell describes an arguably horizontal nomadic structure that travels the country, happily utilizing a diversity of tactics from protest to bombings to shut down police infrastructure and build vertical farms and other monuments to sustainability wherever they go. They ride bikes and forcibly dismantle people’s cars, and are a sort of fanatical–yet sympathetic–cult of “zero footprinters.”

John Scalzi describes a more traditional, hierarchical city but sympathizes heavily with the barbarians at its gates, and Karl Schroeder describes an augmented reality city on top of a city with its own post-scarcity economic structure.

I’m not just fascinated by the cultures that these stories present, I’m fascinated by their authors’ point of entry. I would suggest that technology culture in the 21st century is leaning more and more towards anarchist approaches. Centralization is being outed as the demon it is: centralization and homogeny are understood as the bane of a healthy online network, and many are beginning to realize that the same is true of offline networks. A sort of neo-tribalism is on the rise, as is simply understanding that people and cultures are more fascinating when viewed as webs, as horizontal networks, than as rigidly controlled and highly-formalized structures.

What’s more, intellectual property is increasingly out of vogue. A sort of anarcho-futurist mentality is on the rise: that we should borrow and steal freely from each other’s ideas, that copyright laws are an imposition on our aesthetic and creative freedom, that they stand in the way of moving our culture forward–or outward, or in whatever direction it feels like moving. Some are, I would argue, even beginning to understand that it is not that we steal ideas from one another, but that copyright and intellectual property actually represent theft from the public, enclosure of what by nature ought to be the commons. Knowledge knows no scarcity and there is no reason to charge for its dissemination.

Slowly, this critique of intellectual property is filtering out into meatspace, and now in the 21st century many geeks are coming to their own understandings of what Proudhon so famously stated in the 19th: property is theft.

Radicals would be fools to ignore this sudden appearance of fellow-travelers.

There is plenty to be critical about in METAtropolis, to be certain. I know many people who will reject the entire thing whole-hog because it proposes (or at least describes) genetically engineering pigs to better feed a “green” city. Its critique of technology is quite specialized, its critique of capital is occasionally bizarre, and its portrayal of protests is actually sort of cute in its naivety. But still, these authors are intelligent people and their proposals merit consideration at the very least.

But I’m not as concerned with how this might influence the radical crowd as I am excited about how this might influence a broader audience. Fiction is a powerful medium for the dissemination of radical thought, and here it has been utilized quite effectively: the line between utopia and dystopia are so blurred that it is almost impossible to take ideas from the book as prescriptive, and anarchism is presented as a fairly non-ideological movement or idea. There are no black flags, but there is squatting, permaculture, and direct action. And thank heavens, there’s no appealing to the state. A mainstream book that talks about solutions to political problems without a hint of reformism: I can handle that.