Up in the Air

I came to anarchism through loneliness. I remember trying to outrun my lifelong feelings of inadequacy expressed through fits of depression and suicidal tendencies. As a consequence, I developed tricks, explored alternating personalities, became a hopper of religions, and committed myself to trendy living, in an effort to gain entry into several of the communities, sub-cultures, and relationships that surrounded me. I was dissatisfied with the pain in my life and I thought that other people could help me to fill the void. I wanted to live because I felt as though I was already dead. The great oppression of my life therefore was my inability to forge successful connections with others. I was always at war with myself.

As a result of my ceaseless commitment to finding meaningful relationships, I never had one. What person, community, or sub-culture could ever outshine a great and radiant lifelong phantasy? (Growing up, I frequently reminded friends, family, and partners what love and society were “supposed to look like” — foolishly, nothing in the world could compare to it.) As I matured I began to realize that my visions were the result of phantasy itself, an attempt to outrun the pain at the heart of my existence, and that, finally, I didn’t have an answer or a place to escape – I simply knew that there were problems; problems that neither love, society nor friend could ever pretend to mend because they were first of all problems at the root of my very being. I had only to become acquainted with, rather than outrun, what Dexter Morgan has always called his “dark passenger”.

There is a great truth to the claim that one does not become an anarchist but that one might only realize that an anarchist is what one has always been. If it were as easy as becoming an anarchist, we’d only have left to set our sights on how to make others anarchists too; and, in this performance alone, we contradict the most basic of anarchist ethics, that is, we cease to be anti-authoritarian. And yet, if one were first of all born an anarchist, that is, born into chaos and confusion, then one might only come to terms with the anarchy of life. This is my darkness and it is yours; it is a passenger that remains with us wherever we find ourselves. This is what naturally resists our human interventions because it has always been the general principle of existence. It relates to the profound negativity that frere dupont describes as revolt, but it occurs just as much inwardly as it does outwardly.

I have thus this precise meaning when I insist that anarchists have always been ‘Up in the Air’: we have always been motivated by phantasies. It is here that we understand that being anarchist implies living within the contradictions and the darkness that surrounds us, it means never escaping phantasies except deep within the pits of our being; coming to terms with the phantasies that we have constructed, and will continue to construct, in order to escape the traumatic nature of our birth. Conditions will never change, but our personal, unspeakable, relationship to these conditions can change and with it so much else.

For glimpses of this “dark passenger”, this darkness that emerges from the outermost inside of the anarchist milieu and then from everywhere else outside of it, one has only to look at the recent lineage of nihilistic films on the big screen. Most recently, a film called “Up In The Air” depicts the sad life of Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) who spends his time flying around the world helping large companies fire their employees when they decide to downsize. A number of techniques emerge to help soothe the fired employee upon hearing the news, including but not limited to: constructing comforting and soothing environments, constructing future fantasies (the employee now has time to ‘chase his or her dreams’), technological mediation (layoffs via webcam), creating elaborate discourse to embellish layoff packages, etc. For all of the fancy words, soothing environments and future fantasies, Ryan is still aware of the darkness that exists beneath all the talk but he does little to combat it. Indeed, he builds his empire upon its soil. He helps construct phantasies for other people.

It appears for a while that Ryan has no darkness, that he enjoys his life – he is captured by his phantasy—the phantasies of others—repressing his own darkness. What he thinks he lacks is connection. He is resistant for a while, protecting himself from the light. He eventually submits to the love of a co-worker and, at the end of the film, we are left with an unsettling feeling: Ryan stands alone, still without the connection, he continues his career, he returns to the darkness of his life now aware of it but brutally facing it. This is why we should go to watch movies – movies that reject the happy ending in favour of the more realistic reminder that our lives are lived among the darkest of passengers. Disappointed spectators are faced with the sadness of their own lives, some release the pain with tears, others with bad words, still others remain seated for minutes after the movie, just reflecting. They return, like Ryan, to their everyday world and rebuild phantasies until they are ready, again, to face the darkness of life.

I am brought to tears for the beauty and honesty of film and then question my own love for the film. I realize that being an anarchist, in the political sense of the term, doesn’t mean that I have to be immersed in the milieu, interested in anarchist things, or vocally against everything that currently exists. If it helps, [I] think of it this way: I am an agent from the future; I must live a normal life in the circumstances in which I find myself. There is no need for me to go looking for ‘events’ – they will find me. Any action, for me, is only a running away, a phantasy, and, as a result, I run away from the fundamental struggle of my own life. Anarchism, like all things, is simply a preparation for death during life. And if I die an anarchist, I will have been more prepared than most.

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