As the UN sits down for its annual climate conference this week, many experts believe we have passed the point of no return
A piece by Julian Langer, whose blog can be found at https://ecorevoltblog.wordpress.com
“Three minutes. This is it – ground zero. Would you like to say a few words to mark the occasion?” Tyler Durden
As Tyler stood overlooking the heart of civilization he knew he saw a failing empire on the brink of destruction. So Tyler abandons the consumer nesting instinct, in favour of neo-luddite primal anarchy.
Whether or not time and this magical land called the future exists is something for another discussion – I’ll just say that I’m not convinced. But for the purposes of this discussion it seems fair to say that we are three minutes from ground zero. The important thing to remember though is that we are not awaiting the arrival of a nuclear bomb, though Trump, Putin and North Korea appear to be directing us towards that situation. No, we are the embodiment of a thermonuclear cataclysm, a world-ruining piece of machinery, three minutes away from ground zero. So I’ll say a few words to mark the occasion.
Tyler was wrong when he said that our fathers were our models for God; our fathers were merely meant to teach us how to navigate the body of God – the body of the metropolis, the state, the market, civilisation, the Leviathan. But Tyler was correct when he said that God hates us.
After all, what has God, civilisation, the state, the Leviathan, the stranglehold of capitalism brought us? The planet is in ecological ruins. We are plagued by droughts, hurricanes, wildfires intensified by arid conditions and desertification, brought on by agriculture and the deforestation it requires, oil spills, dehabitation, specicde, air unfit to breath and mass extinction. Television feeds us the daily horror of militarism, bombs and politics, along side (m)advertising, supposed reality shows and force-fed comedy spooned down our throats, as we sink deeper into the psychosis of this hyper-real Spectacle – the word of God, the great domesticator.
But in the words of Tyler Durden, “fuck damnation, man, fuck redemption! If we are God’s unwanted children, then so be it!”
If this culture wants us to live lives of death, I propose we rebel, by seeking (near-)Life experiences; that we lose every-Thing to be free to do anything.
How do we do this?
Well if this culture is hell bent on trying to domesticate us all, bringing some wildness to this culture seems the best routeless direction to go down.
With all their attempts to make living in this culture better, most activist projects have served only to make the planetary work machine more bearable for those closest to “radicals”. The revolutionary project is now largely a t-shirt or film. Social anarchists fill potholes and keep this culture going – acts of service to God.
On the other hand, subversive art-focused and psychology-focused milieus, such as Situationists, Discordians, guerrilla ontologists and others which can generally be considered applicable to a post-anarchist practice, have succeeded in creating spaces to release the repressed flow of the wild, within the body of civilisation. This type of practice is that which Hakim Bey (Peter Lamborn Wilson) calls poetic terrorism, and appears to be a means of eco-radicals waging primal war against this world-ruining culture.
Situationists are focused on challenging the psycho-geography of this culture’s everyday normal life, through mediums such as the situationist-prank, which involved turning aspects of capitalism’s everyday-narratives against itself. Discordians and guerrilla ontologists, inspired by the philosophy of Robert Anton Wilson, have often embraced the campaign of Operation Mindfuck, which has focused on art based approaches like performance and guerrilla art, as well as vandalism, practical jokes, reality hacking and hoaxes.
Drawing from these both, in mapping out a loose route for our poetic terrorism, a campaign seems available to us, as agents against this culture, as a means of wild-attack.
What does this look like?
Here are some games –
Modelling glue in the locks of shops, banks and vehicles of world-ruiners. Going into computer shops with fishtank cleaner magnets and destroying the hard drives. Standing on streets with a free hugs sign and giving each person who hugs you a home-made pamphlet on the ecological crisis. Gluing folded up pieces of paper into the coin slots of parking machines and into the card slots of ATMs. Searching for unlocked cars and turning on their lights to drain the battery. Mixing whipped cream, corn flakes, grapes, maple syrup, dish washer fluid and warm water in large quantities in black bags and pouring home-made vomit along streets, in high-traffic pedestrian areas. Standing on the edge and peeing into swimming pools. Leaving kitchen knives in public places covered in fake blood. Graffiti apocalypse poems or surrealist slogans, like “I don’t want to be a wall anymore” on walls, in chalk in public spaces, in sight of on-lookers. Putting itching powder on the toilet paper in public toilets and rolling it back up. Gluing public toilet seats down and putting glue on them. Wearing sandwich boards emblazoned with “the end was yesterday”. Filling wet paper towels with flour, wrapping it up, tying up with a rubber band and throwing flour bombs. Reviving the Existential Negation Campaign. Destroying badger traps or committing other acts of ecotage/monkey-wrenching and turning them into works of art.
These are some of the directions for this project of wild mayhem. With every work of creative-destruction performed a communiqué should be left, as words to mark the occasion.
With this, eco-radical practice escapes the revolutionary model, which is tied to History (the narrative of this culture and its “progress”), without falling into renunciation and becomes an iconoclastic endeavour, full of wild potential. Eco-radicals can challenge believers in this culture’s faith in its ability to maintain everyday normality in ways that are direct and signify a defiant rebellion, without appealing to ideologies and systems, which end up being incorporated and part of that which we hate.
As this operation is intentionally outside of History, there is no start or end date to it. This can be picked up by anyone and dropped as soon as they decide to stop. It has no governing body or even decentralised organisation behind it. It is a wild endeavour, anarchic, free.
So this is it – ground zero. Our operation will be one of wild mayhem. What is to come we cannot know for sure, but the present course only leads to ruin. Disrupting that course, disrupting its ruin of the world and encouraging God’s ruin, through wild poetic terrorism as primal war, seems like a pathway to go down with potential. If you want a future, I will turn again to Mr Durden – “In the world I see – you are stalking elk through the damp canyon forests around the ruins of Rockefeller Center. You’ll wear leather clothes that will last you the rest of your life. You’ll climb the wrist-thick kudzu vines that wrap the Sears Tower. And when you look down, you’ll see tiny figures pounding corn, laying strips of venison on the empty car pool lane of some abandoned superhighway.”
Paul Kingsnorth, a former green activist, thinks the environmental movement has gone wrong. He argues for ‘uncivilisation’
The future for humanity and many other life forms is grim. The crisis gathers force. Melting ice caps, rising seas, vanishing topsoil, felled rainforests, dwindling animal and plant species, a human population forever growing and gobbling and using everything up. What’s to be done? Paul Kingsnorth thinks nothing very much. We have to suck it up. He writes in a typical sentence: “This is bigger than anything there has ever been for as long as humans have existed, and we have done it, and now we are going to have to live through it, if we can.”
Hope finds very little room in this enjoyable, sometimes annoying and mystical collection of essays. Kingsnorth despises the word’s false promise; it comforts us with a lie, when the truth is that we have created an “all-consuming global industrial system” which is “effectively unstoppable; it will run on until it runs out”. To imagine otherwise – to believe that our actions can make the future less dire, even ever so slightly – means that we probably belong to the group of “highly politicised people, whose values and self-image are predicated on being activists”.
According to Kingsnorth, such people find it hard to be honest with themselves. He was once one of them.
We might tell ourselves that The People are ignorant of The Facts and that if we enlighten them they will Act. We might believe that the right treaty has yet to be signed, or the right technology yet to be found, or that the problem is not too much growth and science and progress but too little of it. Or we might choose to believe that a Movement is needed to expose the lies being told to The People by the Bad Men in Power who are preventing The People from doing the rising up they will all want to do when they learn The Truth.
He says this is where “the greens are today”. Environmentalism has become “a consolation prize for a gaggle of washed-up Trots”.
As a characterisation of the green movement, this outbreak of adolescent satire seems unfair. To suggest that its followers become activists only because their “values and self-image” depend on it implies that there is no terror in their hearts, no love of the natural world, nothing real other than their need for a hobby. My experience of green politics is minuscule and secondhand compared with the author’s; all I can say is that the environmentalists I know often share his doubts and yet manage to stick with the cause, believing that their actions may not be totally ineffectual, that something is better than nothing. Most of us would tip our hat to that idea, but Kingsnorth is a passionate apostate with an almost Calvinist certainty that most of the human race, if not all of it, is heading for the fire.
These pieces trace some of his personal and political history. He had a middle-class childhood in the outer London suburbs, with a father who was a “compulsive long-distance walker” – he took his son on marches across the English and Welsh hills. In 1992, aged 19, Kingsnorth joined the protests on Twyford Down against the hill’s destruction by the M3. Aged 21, he was in the rainforests of Indonesia. Like many others, he became an environmentalist “because of a strong emotional reaction to wild places, and the world beyond the human” – like them, he wanted “to save nature from people”. But he also wanted to be different and famous. When he first took it up, green activism “seemed rebellious and excitingly outsiderish”; later, he writes with disappointment, it became “almost de rigueur among the British bourgeoisie”.
Disenchantment arrived when he was in his 30s. In a piece published in 2011, after he has written two or three books as well as columns “for the smart newspapers and the clever magazines”, he decides that his new role model is “not Hemingway but Salinger”. He has done the “big book stuff” – the tours, the extracts run big across the centre pages of mass-market papers. There will be no more Newsnight interviews, no more sitting on the sofa with Richard and Judy (“Jerry Springer was sitting next to me. It was … strange”). All he wants is an acre or two, a house, some bean rows, a pasture, a view of the river. In lists of this kind, renunciation can be hard to distinguish from bragging, and self-sufficiency comes packaged with literary romance.
At the root of this disillusion and retreat – he lives now in a dry-lavatory bungalow in Galway – lay what he calls the “single-minded obsession with climate change” that began to grip environmentalism early in the century. “The fear of carbon has trumped all other issues,” he writes. “Everything else has been stripped away.” Some would see this as saving the planet. Kingsnorth thinks the opposite, that we are destroying the wildest parts of it in the name of sustainability, “a curious, plastic word” that means “sustaining human civilisation at the comfort level that the world’s rich people – us – feel is their right, without destroying the ‘natural capital’ or the ‘resource base’ that is needed to do so”. In more concrete terms, it means wind farms, solar panels and undersea turbines, the renewables that will allow us to carry on business as usual.
Kingsnorth notes that environmentalism is now respectable enough to be embraced by the presidents both of the US (pre-Trump) and Anglo-Dutch Shell, and that a lot of awkward questions have been pushed aside by the drive to reduce carbon. The number of humans, for example, when sustaining a global population of 10 billion, suddenly isn’t a problem, and anyone who suggests otherwise is “giving succour to fascism or racism or gender discrimination”. Instead we make the hills, the deserts and the seas suffer – we’re “industrialising [the] wild places in the name of human desire”.
He writes insightfully about England – presciently, too. “Large-scale immigration is not, as some of its more foaming opponents believe, a conspiracy by metropolitan liberals to destroy English identity,” he says in an essay first published by the Guardian in 2015. “It is a simple commercial calculation. It may cause overcrowding and cultural tension … it is undoubtedly good for growth … if you don’t want the population movement, you don’t get the cheap, easy consumer lifestyle it facilitates. Which will you choose?”
This is Kingsnorth at his plainest and most provocative, but another Kingsnorth is never far away, as romantic in his nationalism as any Victorian storybook when he writes in the same essay: “England is the still pool under the willows where nobody will find you all day, and the only sound is the fish jumping in the dappled light.” This Kingsnorth believes that the human race will eventually die of civilisation, and he wants to create what he calls “Uncivilisation” that will show us a new way to look at human history and endeavour. Stories, he says, are the key.
The book ends with a manifesto: The Eight Principles of Uncivilisation, designed to undermine the myths of progress and human centrality. “Principle 7: we will not lose ourselves in the elaboration of theories or ideologies. Our words will be elemental. We write with dirt under our fingernails.” And so, rather than electric cars and oil in the ground, we are left with a smaller idea of salvation: a little literary movement of the kind that might have gathered around a hand press in a Sussex village c1925, facing the real uncivilisation that has still to come.
• Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist is published by Faber. To order a copy for £11.24 (RRP £14.99) go to bookshop.theguardian.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £10, online orders only.
My otherwise-quite-suitable life-partner and I seem to address this topic quite often, still, even after more than twenty-three years together: Why the hell do I like such horrible things? (In case you’re wondering, this oft-visited discussion is rarely instigated by me.) I’m not just talking about music, though of course music is one of the many areas where this ‘Mat likes horrible things’ rule is undeniably true. I’m talking art in general, whether it’s sound or visual art; I’m talking movies, whether it’s disturbing cinema or silly monster movies or films causing severe psychological discomfort; but I’m also talking about actively researching/hunting down and reading about the various assorted true depravities committed by the ever-creative-in-this-department mass of humankind. Horribleness. Miscellaneous vileness. Ugliness of the form and spirit. I seem drawn to it, and always have been, ever since I can remember. And, given the extremity of topic/sound/aesthetic surrounding this article, the odds are strong that you too, Heathen Harvester, are just as drawn to the deplorable as I am. The question I want to investigate here is: why?
Because it’s not all of us that dig this shit. There are a great many people (as frequently brought up as some kind of evidence by my aforementioned otherwise-quite-suitable life-partner) who don’t like ugliness/horror/depravity at all, and in fact spend a good deal of time deliberately avoiding such matters, choosing to spend their finite hours on this planet enjoying things that are, well, enjoyable. Instead of, say, looking up uncensored footage of prison stabbings, they’ll read an article on, I don’t know, propagating kale, or look at pictures of animals with amusing expressions, or, I don’t know, something else. I honestly have no idea. Because I’m too busy watching grainy footage of people shivving each other in the weights yard.
And I’ve always been this way. The earliest memory I have of being drawn to the monstrous was as a very young child, watching Doctor Who (I’ve since rummaged through my old stuff and have found a tiny notepad my mum used to keep, which is full of her painstaking re-drawings of my drawings when I was little, and have found a picture of Doctor Who and his companion Sarah Jane which mum dated sixth of August 1978, meaning I was about three and a half). I seem to recall some green slimy eyeball-type creature shambling up the side of a lighthouse, and I remember loving it soooo much. (I clearly also remember mum telling dad that my love of the bizarre and frightening was ‘just a phase’, which is pretty damn funny in hindsight.) But why did I love it so much? Was it just a love of the impossible, the fantastical? Or was it just some very normal thing that I never grew out of (I mean, all kids love monsters, don’t they?)—in which case, why didn’t I grow out of it?
Some of us seem drawn to ugly art, strange music, and real-life depravity, and some of us don’t. I have an inkling that the two are related (being drawn to ugly strangeness in sound/vision, and being interested in ugly strangeness in real life), but of course nothing is ever actually that simple, and I definitely know people who refuse to watch scary/freaky movies but insist on weird/noisy music at all times, so I’m pretty sure whatever conclusions I come up with will be highly variable in their personal mileage, and the whole lumping-this-all-together thing I’m attempting here may very well be a terrible mistake. But, well, I’m going to attempt it anyway.
So, first stop… monstrousness in fantasy/art/sound/imagination.
LEVEL ONE: THE MONSTROUS AS AESTHETIC
My otherwise-quite-suitable life-partner has a simple rule: no screaming in the lounge room (at least, not with her around). This doesn’t refer to my own screaming (I am a very quiet chap in general, softly-spoken with a tendency to mumble incoherently), but rather the screaming of the vocalists in the musical projects that I choose to listen to: Nocturno Culto, Utarm, Katherine Katz, Mories, Nekrasov, Jay Randall, Passenger of Shit, J R Hayes, etc. (not to mention the even more ‘non-vocalist’-type screams of bands like Abruptum and Stalaggh/Gulaggh). She can tolerate the more tuneful-type screams of Devin Townsend, but that’s about her limit: otherwise, any part of our house that isn’t my dimly lit (and expertly soundproofed) underhouse studio is simply a no-scream zone. Which is fair enough. After all, human screams are one of the sounds we’re almost biologically attuned to dislike, either through empathy or revulsion. So why does so much of the music I like contain so damn much of the stuff? The same goes for immense amounts of atonality, or for overwhelming cut-up chaos (without repetition or pattern or structure): These things are, as a rule, disorienting and/or anxiety-inducing, so why the fuck do I chase it so much? Why does something in me light up when it gets sonically flummoxed, when the same thing drives other (normal) people away? And why are you like that too? What happened to us? Are we damaged?
I suspect this is roughly how my otherwise-quite-suitable life-partner sees it: that I turned out “wrong” somehow, that I’m a bit “broken”. But I also suspect that this view is completely inaccurate. Because I just don’t feel very broken. I feel fine, generally speaking. It’s not like I’m drawn to this chaos or darkness or phantasmagorical pain because it’s only then that I feel at home, or because it’s only horror that makes me feel like someone understands my hellish existence, or that it’s the only way I can experience healing catharsis, or anything like that. It’s not like I need horrible screaming people in my lounge room. It honestly feels like it’s purely a taste thing, an aesthetic that I’m drawn to. I just like horrible screaming people, ugly visions, inappropriate textures, and sordidness of spirit. I just do. But, of course, this is exactly the issue I’m attempting to investigate here: the reasons behind this taste, and the reasons why I’m drawn to this particular aesthetic, given that the whole human experience is typically about avoiding the same (shunning the ugly, moving away from the screaming person, not submerging oneself in grossness, etc.).
To help with writing this essay, I’ve just gone and read up on what draws people to horror movies (as an example of the ‘monstrous in art’), and it turns out there’s a million different theories:
1) There’s the theory that watching a scary/freaky movie makes one’s heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing intensify, which kind of experientially heightens the feelings associated with watching it, so, if you’re having a great time watching, it’ll feel like an ever greater time, relatively speaking, because your system is on such high alert. This theory also lends itself to musical experiences: If all that atonality and screaming and super-speedy beatmongering (or super-loud doom-vibes) cause your biological system to become heightened, and you’re having a great time listening, then it’ll become an even greater time, relatively speaking. This theory also ties into the idea of some people totally digging it, and some people totally not digging it, because this theory also says that if you’re having a bad time watching/listening, the bad experience will be made even more unpleasant by the same heightened biological states. But what this theory doesn’t really help with is why the monstrous thing is enjoyable in the first place. It only really deals with how the heightened experience makes the reaction stronger than other forms of media.
2) There’s a theory that it is the heightened excitation itself that we enjoy, in the same way as a base-jumper enjoys leaping off things or a rollercoaster-fan enjoys screaming in abject terror and barfing their guts up (assuming that’s what people enjoy about rollercoasters). We get off on the feeling of it. And, even better than a rollercoaster, watching a scary movie, or listening to a disorienting album is an intrinsically safe way to go about getting this hit of heightened excitation. There may be some merit to this theory; there is definitely some kind of a buzz that I get from these forms of media, and yet I am just as definitely not the kind of person who goes jumping off cliffs (and last time I was on a fairground ride with my daughter I vowed never to fucking do that shit ever again). But at the same time, I don’t feel like it’s the whole story, because there’s many a time I’ll want to listen to some extreme metal or crazy cut-up nonsense and not feel like I’m ‘chasing a buzz’ at all, but rather, just ‘having a nice time’.
3) There’s a theory that it’s the enjoyment of triumphing over fear/repulsion itself that we enjoy—that, in essence, we enjoy these terrible things because they are unenjoyable, and being able to show them who’s boss is what gives us the positive feelings. It’s like we’re giving the Grim Reaper the finger, in some sense, like we’re reducing the hideous/terrifying/ghastly/repulsive to mere entertainment, and that is what feels good. It feels like there might be some merit in this theory too, perhaps: It is kinda cool to be able to say, ‘You can’t handle Whourkr or Utarm? I love those bands.’ But this theory does reduce the entirety of enjoying the Art of the Horrendous to some kind of show-offy bullshit pretence, which it really doesn’t feel like, and makes the experience all about proving yourself to others, which it also doesn’t really feel like. When I listen to full-on strangeness or watch Visitor Q, I tend to do it on my own, without anyone else in mind, and enjoy the experience wholly on my own terms, without anyone else’s validation or respect or values on my mind (and, as mentioned earlier, the enjoyment of such media actually makes my otherwise-quite-suitable life-partner respect me less). So, although there may be an element of this involved, it doesn’t feel like it’s the whole picture. (There is, of course, that thing of proving to yourself that you can handle something scary, but, for most of us who are actually into The Strange, that’s a no-brainer: We already know we can handle it because it’s the kind of thing we regularly seek out and experience, so it’s not so much of an issue. I think there probably is an element of it involved [especially in the escalating scale of the ugliness we may seek out], but it’s definitely not the whole story.)
4) There’s the theory that male-identifying people are drawn to scary movies because they get gender reinforcement by ‘proving themselves’ in the face of fear/repulsion (‘lack of fear in the face of terror’ being a cultural marker for assessing masculinity). One study (a ridiculously small one, with only thirty-six people of very limited diversity) showed that male-identifying people enjoyed a horror movie more when they watched it with a female-identifying person who was scared, and female-identifying people enjoyed the horror movie more when they watched it with a male-identifying person who wasn’t scared. I suspect this is actually rank codswallop, given the male—and female—identifying people I personally know, but could very well be a factor for a more mainstream population. What would I know? Either way, it doesn’t really answer my particular question though, and is much harder to shift across to other art forms—if these effects are remotely true in the first place, does listening to strange/ugly music produce similar effects (i.e., do chicks like listening to hideous noise if there’s a manly man around)? Certainly my otherwise-quite-suitable life-partner has never once found my ever-so-masculine tolerance of unpleasant music/cinema even remotely erogenous. As suggested earlier: rank codswallop.
5) There’s a theory that says we are drawn to horror/strangeness/ugliness because it is outside of our normal realm of experience, and, as such, becomes imbued with the Imaginary Value of the Rare. In the same way as people care more about cheetahs than they do about pigs, or diamonds more than they care about bread, the very novelty of the horrendous makes it worth something. Biologically, we are hardwired to look for anomalies in our environment, and curiosity about The Strange is a sensible survival technique. It may very well be that we are drawn to horror movies/weird music/ghastly stories for the very same reasons we rubberneck at a car crash. A normal person’s morbid fascination and my unending hunt for intriguing new sounds are basically rooted in the same biological thing.
Now, when I saw this theory, it made a small ‘ching’ noise in my mental theatre, like a little gold bell struck once with a tiny hammer, because this is actually something I am consciously aware of in my search for interesting music/art/cinema. I love nothing more than hearing some piece of music and thinking, ‘Fuck, I have never heard that before’. When I make music, it’s always with the intention of adding something to the world that doesn’t already exist. When I review an album, I’m always asking myself, ‘Is this just a pile of self-conscious cookie-cutter swill, or is this actually something worthwhile?’ So, seeing this concept of novelty applied to horror movies was actually a bit of an eye-opener. I’d never thought of it that way before. My interest in the dark/ugly/strange side of media is all linked by a conceptual interest in the far borders of human experience—in experiencing the very fringes of the normal/socially permissible. I don’t want to jump off a cliff, but I’m deeply drawn to music/visuals/emotions that do (metaphorically speaking). It’s not actually an attraction to the repulsive, it’s an attraction to the strange, and, by its very nature, the strange includes all those things that don’t fit into the normal. And, since the normal spends so much time appreciating/collecting beauty and pleasantry and comfort, the strange ends up including the ugly and unpleasant and discomforting! I’m not broken after all! I just like weirdness, which happens to include ugliness and horror! It may be that the part of me that lit up when I first heard Alvin and the Chipmunks is the exact same part of me that got a buzz out of Martyrs.
It does all make sense, that all this interest in The Repulsive stems from a blanket interest in The Strange. Most of the other people I know who share this obsession with the macabre/ugly have similar interests in Surrealism, the Occult, dreams, etc. Being raised in a slick corporate world of ego-driven fitness, photoshopped beauty, and community as PR, it’s no surprise that some of us were drawn to the things we weren’t meant to see, and sided with ugliness instead. Like the underarm hair on a fashion model, there are many things that are true and real and natural that our society attempts to erase in the name of capitalist fear-mongering and mind control, and it is no surprise that some of us opted for the forbidden (sometimes for no other reason than it was forbidden in the first place).
Still with me? Great! This paragraph or so of ‘rubbernecking at car crashes’ seems the perfect segue to take us to the next, quite a bit more disturbing, level of this journey of the horrendous: our interest in true horror (because it’s not just fantasy stuff we’re into). The kind of person I’m talking about here (okay, so basically me at this stage, but I’m hoping there are enough of you out there to justify the effort involved in writing and publishing this essay), this kind of person doesn’t just watch Taxidermia and listen to Gnaw Their Tongues and enjoy the painted works of Chris Mars (and bonus points to any of you who ticked off all three boxes there). It’s not just in the phantasmagorical realm that we’re drawn to ghastliness, but in the real. The kind of person I’m talking about also reads true crime stories (the more aberrant the better) and searches out photos of things made of human skin. This kind of person finds themselves late at night perusing the sickening online transcripts of the instructional cassette tape David Parker Ray (AKA the Toybox Killer) recorded for his bound and gagged kidnapping victims to listen to as they awoke on his torture table. Because (I think) part of this interest in the great horror is not merely titillation or car-crash rubbernecking, but in unlocking something about what it means to be human—where the lines of experience are drawn, and what’s at the very edges of that terrain. So, level two: Hold on tight.
LEVEL TWO: THE MONSTROUS AS REALITY
Now, before we get to this level, let’s make it clear: Horror is still horror to me. It’s not fun. The ugly is still ugly. It’s not like I’m here going, ‘It’s so cool when people get hurt or have bad times’. It’s not like that at all. It’s something like eating a really hot chili: It still hurts, lots, but there is some kind of intensity to the pain itself that can be enjoyed, while the burning is still really not enjoyable at all. You can enjoy the intensity itself while still registering the pain as painful. There’s an excitement to the extremity of the badness while still fully recognising the badness is bad. Like the car crash we drive past, craning for corpses: We know those corpses are real people, like everyone we love, and that those corpses represent a whole world of sadness and pain for other very real people, but at the same time, it’d be kinda cool to cop an eyeful.
So, drawing on all the theories above, do they still apply when the horror is not some kind of aesthetic choice, but a real-life tragedy? Is it okay to get a buzz out of genuine misfortune? Is it okay to be interested in the very darkest parts of the human organism? Hasn’t it crossed some line now into sickness and depravity? I argue it hasn’t, as long as we keep that previous point in mind: that bad shit is actually really fucking bad. My interest in the true horrors of the world is actually miles away from ‘fun’. It has elements of ‘attraction to novelty’ about it, it has elements of ‘triumphing over fear’, but it is never, ever ‘having a cool time’. It’s definitely an interest in the aberrant while being fucking endlessly gratitudinously thankful that it is an aberration and not the norm. It’s a much more serious business than listening to some wacky music or watching a bunch of actors pretend to be scared: This is intrinsically linked to that stuff about experiencing the very borders of human experience and knowing what’s really going on. It’s pretty fucked, but I feel better knowing just how fucked it actually is.
And sometimes it really does leave me scarred—sometimes permanently so. That late night when I discovered myself reading what David Parker Ray had to say to his victims, I felt physically ill. I was shaking with the horror of it all—that this shit was fucking real, this actually happened to people as flesh-and-blood as I am, as my daughter is. I actually felt like I was having a panic attack. It was not fun. And yet I read it to the end and went hunting for more information, pictures, and testimonies in some kind of horrified fact-hunting fugue.
I had a similar reaction when reading about one researcher’s infiltration of the child pornography community on the Deep Web. What I read there fucking completely freaked me out for a long time (families raising kids specifically for ‘sharing’; the schism between the anti-violence and pro-violence factions; the mind-boggling scale of it all). But that didn’t stop me poking around the dark corners of reality, because, well, just because something is mind-boggling horrible doesn’t mean I should put my fingers in my ears and go ‘la la la’ in the hopes that it will go away. It won’t.
When it comes to fictional depravity, I think the simple notions of ‘novelty’ and ‘triumph over horror’ might come into play, but when it comes to this far-scarier, far-more-awful real life horror, I think another element comes to the fore, namely knowing what’s really going on. I like to think it’s the attraction of knowledge, pure unrefined warty-balls-and-all knowledge itself, that draws me in. (But of course, I’m not scouring astrophysicist sites for knowledge; I’m not trawling marine biology sites for knowledge; it’s simply not the case that it’s ‘just knowledge’ that interests me. It’s very definitely ‘knowledge about things that are horrible’ that attracts me. So, what is it about that knowledge regarding specifically horrendous, fucking ghastly shit that interests me? Is it the ‘triumphing over fear’ stuff investigated above? Is it the ‘fringes of experience’ stuff?)
I think, in the end, it’s some kind of a desperate attempt to understand what we’re capable of—what I, as a human being, must be capable of. When I talk about an interest in exploring ‘the fringes of human experience’, I wonder if, deep down, it’s actually about exploring what I could be capable of—what you could be capable of. It’s about what any of us could be capable of. Because we’re all the same species, exactly the same species, as David Parker Ray or Jeffrey Dahmer or Elizabeth Bathory. Anything they could do (I’m not talking about feats of strength or remarkable agility here), I could do, or you could do. And yet, somehow, through some amazing conjunction of circumstances, we don’t do these terrible, fucked up things. And that feels great.
When we know just how horrible things can be, it gives us two things:
1) We are armed with the shining scimitar of actual truth, and
2) We are filled with the glowing light of gratitude that whatever foul fucking piece of disaster we’ve just finished consuming is not, in fact, happening to us right now.
And truth and gratitude, I think, may be worth more than a little horror.
SOME KIND OF GLIB POINT-PROVING SUMMARY
In closing, what have I learned? I think the most important thing here is that an interest in the strange is not necessarily a problem or some kind of symptom of a broken person, or something that we should be concerned about in our young ones, or anything like that. An interest in the strange can definitely bring people into contact with horrible, horrible things and can definitely make the soundtrack of your lounge room less comfortable for your significant others, but it can also bring a lot of truth into your lives. Unpleasant, awful, trauma-inspiring truth, but truth nonetheless. As a vegan-type person, I’ve definitely seen a lot more trauma-inspiring footage than most mainstreamer corpse-eating-type people, but I can’t help but feel that if I have to choose between comfortable illusion and uncomfortable truth, I’ll always end up choosing to know the ugly facts. It’s a bit like that.
In the end, I’m not actually saying, ‘I listen to weird music, which is somehow loosely tied into valuing truth more than people who listen to mainstream music, so I’m a better person than you’. I’m not actually saying, ‘People who only listen to carefully sanitised, executively driven, corporately produced music are somehow trapped in an inauthentic world of capitalist product-driven illusion, and I’m not, so nyer’. I’m not really saying, ‘Weirdness is better, straight people suck massive dogballs’. Or am I?
Maybe, deep down, I am saying that. And maybe this is really just me petulantly getting back at everyone who ever called me a weirdo. How can I possibly tell? Funny how the subconscious works.
About Serial Killers
Every Monday, Serial Killers takes a psychological and entertaining approach to provide a rare glimpse into the mind, methods and madness of the most notorious serial killers with the hopes of better understanding their psychological profile. With the help of real recordings and voice actors, we delve deep into their lives and stories.
Perhaps it seems that I have said too much about the Red Tower, and perhaps it has sounded far too strange. Do not think that I am unaware of such things. But as I have noted throughout this document, I am only repeating what I have heard. I myself have never seen the Red Tower—no one ever has, and possibly no one ever will.
—Thomas Ligotti, The Nightmare Factory
Thomas Ligotti does not see the world as you and I. He does not see the world at all. Rather he envisions another, separate realm of description, a realm that sits somewhere between the interstices of the visible and invisible, a twilight zone of shifting semblances, echoes of our world. Each of his stories is neither a window onto that realm, nor a mirror of its dark recesses but rather a promise of nightmares that travel among us like revenants seeking a habitation. Reading his stories awakens not the truth of this mad world, but shapes our psyches toward the malformed madness that surrounds us always. For we inhabit the secure regions of a fake world, a collective hallucination of the universal decay not knowing or wishing to know the truth in which we live and have our being.
The security filters that wipe out the traces of the real world are lacking in Ligotti. The system of tried and tested traps that keep us safely out of the nightmare lands never took hold of Ligotti’s keen mind. Rather he inhabits a hedge world, a fence between the realms of the noumenal and phenomenal, appearance and reality. But it is not a dual world. There is no separate realm beyond this one, only the “mind-made manacles” as William Blake called them of the self-imposed collective security regimes we call the human realm. Only the filters of language, culture, and civilization protect us from the dark truth of the universe in all its nightmare glory.
Speaking of the dark marvels of our blank universe of entropic decay, of the endless sea of blackness surrounding those small pools of light in the starry firmament, Ligotti contemplates creation:
Dreaming upon the grayish desolation of that landscape, I also find it quite easy to imagine that there might have occurred a lapse in the monumental tedium, a spontaneous and inexplicable impulse to deviate from a dreary perfection, perhaps even an unconquerable desire to risk a move toward a tempting defectiveness.
For Ligotti the universe is not so much a place where gods or God, demons or Devils vie for the souls of humans, but is a realm of impersonal forces that have neither will nor intelligence. A realm of malevolence only in the sense that it cares not one iota for its progeny, of its endless experiments, its defective and deviant children. It only knows movement and change, process and the swerve away from perfection. This is our universe, as Wallace Stevens once said so eloquently in the Poem of Our Climate,
There would still remain the never-resting mind,
So that one would want to escape, come back
To what had been so long composed.
The imperfect is our paradise.
Note that, in this bitterness, delight,
Since the imperfect is so hot in us,
Lies in flawed words and stubborn sounds.
Between entropy decay and negentropic creativity we move in a dark vitality of organic and inorganic motion, our minds blessed or cursed with awareness. And, yet, most of us are happily forgetful of our state of being and becoming, unaware of the murderous perfection against which our flawed lives labour. We are blessed with forgetfulness and sleep, oblivious of the machinery of creation that seeks our total annihilation. For life is a rift in the calm perfection of eternity, a rupture in the quietude of perfection that is the endless sea of nothingness. We are the enemies of this dead realm of endless night and universal decay. With us an awareness of the mindless operations of a negentropic process and movement to tilt the balance of the universal apathy was begun. We are the children of a corrupt thought, an imperfect and flawed creation that should not have been. And all the forces of perfection have been set loose to entrap us and bring the ancient curse to an end.
Speaking of this Ligotti will remind us that
An attempt was made to reclaim the Red Tower, or at least to draw it back toward the formless origins of its being. I am referring, of course, to that show of force which resulted in the evaporation of the factory’s dense arsenal of machinery. Each of the three stories of the Red Tower had been cleaned out, purged of its offending means of manufacturing novelty items, and the part of the factory that rose above the ground was left to fall into ruins.
Yes, we are an afterthought, a mere copy of a copy, experimental actors in a universal factory that has gone through many editions, fought many wars before us, many worlds. Many universes of manufactured realities have come before ours. We are not special in this regard, but are instead the next in a long line of novelty products of a process that is mindless in intent, yet long in its devious and malevolent course toward imperfection. Or as Ligotti puts it:
Dreaming upon the grayish desolation of that landscape, I also find it quite easy to imagine that there might have occurred a lapse in the monumental tedium, a spontaneous and inexplicable impulse to deviate from a dreary perfection, perhaps even an unconquerable desire to risk a move toward a tempting defectiveness. As a concession to this impulse or desire out of nowhere, as a minimal surrender, a creation took place and a structure took form where there had been nothing of its kind before. I picture it, at its inception, as a barely discernible irruption in the landscape, a mere sketch of an edifice, possibly translucent when making its first appearance, a gray density rising in the grayness, embossed upon it in a most tasteful and harmonious design. But such structures or creations have their own desires, their own destinies to fulfil, their own mysteries and mechanisms which they must follow at whatever risk.
Our world is that deviation, that experimental factory in a gray sea of desolation, a site where novelties of a “hyper-organic” variety are endlessly produced with a desire of their own. Describing the nightmare of organicicity Ligotti offers us a picture of the machinic system of our planetary life
On the one hand, they manifested an intense vitality in all aspects of their form and function; on the other hand, and simultaneously, they manifested an ineluctable element of decay in these same areas. That is to say that each of these hyper-organisms, even as they scintillated with an obscene degree of vital impulses, also, and at the same time, had degeneracy and death written deeply upon them. In accord with a tradition of dumbstruck insanity, it seems the less said about these offspring of the birthing graves, or any similar creations, the better. I myself have been almost entirely restricted to a state of seething speculation concerning the luscious particularities of all hyper-organic phenomena produced in the subterranean graveyard of the Red Tower.
We know nothing of the teller of the tales, only that everything he describes is at second hand, a mere reflection of a reflection, a regurgitated fragment from the demented crew of the factory who have all gone insane: “I am only repeating what I have heard. I myself have never seen the Red Tower—no one ever has, and possibly no one ever will.”
Bound to our illusions, safely tucked away in the collective madness of our “human security regimes” (Nick Land), we catch only glimpses of the blood soaked towers of the factory of the universal decay surrounding us. Ligotti, unlike us, lives in this place of no place, burdened with the truth, with the sight of the universe as it is, unblinkered by the rose tented glasses of our cultural machinery. Ligotti sees into things, and what he’s discovered is the malevolence of a endless imperfection that is gnawing away at the perfection of nothingness. Ligotti admits he has no access to the machinery of the world, only its dire reflection and echo in others who have gone insane within its enclosed factory and assemblage. Echoing the mad echoes of the insane he repeats the gestures of the unknown and unknowable in the language of a decaying empire of mind. To read Ligotti is to sift through the cinders of a decaying and dying earth, to listen to the morbidity of our birthing pains, to view “the gray and featureless landscapes” of our mundane lives as we spend our days in mindless oblivion of the dark worlds that encompass us.
Broken in mind and body, caught in the mesh of a world in decay and imperfection, Ligotti sends us messages from the asylums of solitude, a figure in the dark of our times, an outrider from the hells of our impersonal and indifferent chaosmos. His eyes gaze upon that which is both the ill-fame night and the daily terror of his short life. He gifts us with his nightmares, and suffers for us the cold extremity of those stellar regions of the soul we dare not enter. Bound to the wheel of horror he discovers the tenuous threads that provide us guideposts and liminal puzzles from the emptiness of which we are made. In an essay on Heidegger, Nick Land once remarked that “Return, which is perhaps the crucial thought of modernity, must now be read elsewhere. The dissolution of humanism is stripped even of the terminology which veils collapse in the mask of theoretical mastery. It must be hazarded to poetry.”1 In Ligotti the hazard is the poetry of the mind facing the contours of a universe of corruption that is in itself beautiful as the cold moon glowing across the blue inflamed eyes of a stranger, her gaze alight with the suns dying embers and the shifting afterglow of the moons bone smile.
Or, as Ligotti’s interlocutor says in summation:
I must keep still and listen for them; I must keep quiet for a terrifying moment. Then I will hear the sounds of the factory starting up its operations once more. Then I will be able to speak again of the Red Tower.
Listen for the machinery of creation to start up again, to hear the martialing of new universes arising out of the void; for the blinding light of annihilation that will keep step with the logic of purification and transcendence that has trapped us in this dark cave of mind till language, man, and creation are folded back into that immanent world from which they were sprung. Then we, too, might begin speaking the words that will produce in us that which is more than ourselves.
- Land, Nick. Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987 – 2007 (Kindle Locations 1158-1159). Urbanomic/Sequence Press. Kindle Edition.
The most notable departure that eco-extremism has undertaken in the past year is its increased clarity in organization. While its manner of attack has always been small, disperse, and secretive; and while it has always renounced revolutionary discourse or discussion of a “movement,” only a stark break could make clear that the ethos of eco-extremism is different from that of anarchists and other radical terrorists. In place of the activist, the eco-extremist seeks to emulate the criminal. Instead of the Party, the nihilist individualist builds a “secret society” (often secret even among themselves). Instead of a Movement, those who carry out the extreme defense of Wild Nature advocate a Mafia. If the emergence of eco-extremism signaled the crossing of the bridge to leave the Land of Progress and Enlightenment, the new stage of the management of savagery is setting fire to that bridge and watching it burn.
There are of course theoretical reasons for this. To carry out eco-extremist actions, the actors themselves require utmost autonomy and anonymity, just like criminals. The liberal, the leftist, the anarchist, and the anarcho-primitivist all advocate actions that others can emulate and proclaim along with the Crucified in the Gospel: “Go and do likewise.” They want to “mass produce” a course of action and behaviors developed to fit every possible situation and contingency. Everything is “open source” and out for everyone to see. This meets their need for the democratic ethos, their Faith in the People, their Dogma of the Fundamental Goodness of Human Nature. Even the most sympathetic hyper-civilized readers engage eco-extremist literature and ask, “But what should I DO? How can I apply it to MY OWN LIFE? Etc,” If you have to ask, then there is no answer in your case.
The eco-extremist is an opportunist. He is an individualist. There is no cookie-cutter eco-extremist like there is a cookie cutter communist or anarchist or primitivist. Each one is different, just like each crime is different. The modern activist seeks to limit chaos and contingency: the eco-extremist counts on it, even thrives off of it. The masses of hyper-civilized activists, from pacifists to the Black Bloc, seek to move like a Napoleonic column of troops, with discipline, a common goal, and a State-like force confronting the State in a “dual power” situation. These are only as strong as their weakest link. Eco-extremist action is guerilla warfare in the full sense of the term: not just in practice, but also in purpose. The eco-extremist, just like the criminal, fights only for himself, for his own benefit, and with those who fight similarly if far away; those who laud his actions and seek to emulate them in their own circumstances.
This is why eco-extremism is the “stone of stumbling, and a rock of scandal, to them who stumble at the word.” (1 Peter 2:8) Even those who sympathize, those leftist cheerleaders who want to be a little more militant and think that a few words in support of ITS boost their credibility as “post-leftists,” don’t understand this eco-extremist first principle. Eco-extremism is not about a few militant words that stimulate conversation, or a slightly more violent form of the passive pessimism that pervades progressive if honest intellectual circles. Eco-extremism is about conspiratorial complicity, violent affinity, and sympathy that leads to illegality. Eco-extremism is not yet another ideological idol that one has on one’s altar along with insurrectionary anarchism, anarcho-primitivism, eco-anarchism, passive nihilism, etc. Eco-extremism is the smashing of idols, even the idol of one’s own “self-realization” and “autonomy” within putrid techno-industrial civilization. It is the holy zeal of the fanatic in the face of the blasphemies against Wild Nature, the covetous lust for violence against the hyper-civilized victim, and the singular patience needed to strike at the enemy at the opportune time. Any similarities to ideologies that came before it are superficial at best.
In order to draw this out further, we will take some lessons from the life of a modern day guerilla raider / criminal, one who had come to similar opinions concerning the legitimacy of criminal activity in a corrupt society. We speak here of José Vigoa, ex-Spetsnaz commando, possible Cuban intelligence officer, drug dealer, and casino robber who was a terror on the streets of Las Vegas during the years 1999 and 2000. During this time, he and his small crew successfully robbed some of the biggest casinos in Las Vegas, including the MGM and the Bellagio. Vigoa also killed two armored car guards who were trying to play hero during a robbery. We will not dwell on biographical details of Vigoa here, but rather quote passages from John Huddy’s fascinating account, Storming Las Vegas: How a Cuban-Born, Soviet-Trained Commando Took Down the Strip to the Tune of Five World-Class Hotels, Three Armored Cars and Millions of Dollars, and comment on these as appropriate. By this we seek to learn from his rules of engagement and shed light on how individualist attack will happen from now into the future. The future, as much as one can speak of it, belongs to the individualist, to chaos, and to a-morality.
Not that Jose Vigoa thinks well of the determined Brink’s guards as they spoil what could have been his retirement heist. Stupid hero bullshit! Thinks Vigoa as he takes heavy fire from the two guards and retreats to the waiting Rodeo. Vigoa is amazed that the low-paid Brink’s men fight back. If not for the heavy fire now streaming toward him and the crazy American blazing away over the hood of the trunk, Vigoa would tell the guards to their faces how foolish they are: I’m not trying to take the money away from you, or disrespect you, or steal anything from your families. I want to take the money from the fat pig casino owners who have millions and millions and exploit their employees with peanut wages. (16)
Undaunted, Vigoa conducts a debriefing and announces a new policy: “Next time we shoot first and ask no questions of nobody. I didn’t ask the guards for their fucking wristwatches and wallets. Everybody wants to be a hero in this country.” Vigoa later writes in his journal: “In my world, you are either the hunter or the hunted. Vegas makes it, Vigoa takes it. (22)
The opening of the book describes a botched armored car robbery at the Desert Inn Hotel in Las Vegas, when Vigoa and his crew opened fire too early on the guards making a money delivery, thus allowing them to return fire and defend themselves. This would be a theme in Vigoa’s crime spree: that poor guards who had everything to lose and nothing to gain from returning fire defended their bosses’ money anyway. Perhaps here we see that the “hyper-civilized,” far from innocent or exploited, uphold an unjust system out of some sense of pride or habit. Civilization doesn’t suppress animal instincts, but rather harnesses them to its own ends, in this case, to defend the concept of private property and the honest working man’s “job well done.” Could there be more evidence that the hyper-civilized will never turn against the techno-industrial system? (16)
The robberies and small-unit tactics used by the gang reminded police of their own swat training. Marine and army veterans recognize Special Forces guerilla war tactics. Special Agent Brett W. Shields of the FBI realizes that the gang uses classic commando doctrines: (1) clandestine insertion, (2) brief, violent combat, (3) rapid disengagement, and (4) swift, deceptive withdrawal. The cops realize they are up against an organized criminal as colorful and lethal as any old-school hoodlum, but one in possession of exceptional battlefield intelligence, modern-day firepower, and sophisticated small-unit tactics. (25)
This “militarization” of criminal activity is a common theme in our day, as we shall see later.
What Vigoa called the Fiery Demon was stirring now; it would soon be awake. Vigoa could feel its raw power and white heat gathering strength throughout his body. Once he had feared the feeling and thought that it drew him into a life of crime and brutality, but Vigoa knew better now. The Fiery Demon was his shield and salvation, the primal force that kept him alive.
It was awake and growing stronger, and it would soon be free to do its work. (104)
This passage refers to an episode early in Vigoa’s career, but like many individualists and savages before, Vigoa also had a guiding spirit in combat. To be more than what one is as a mere mortal animal, and to strike out, one often needs the inspiration of a spirit, a daemon in ancient Greek belief. It is no wonder then that Vigoa had this, and an anarchist or leftist would scoff at this, as the latter’s power comes from the people according to their humanist beliefs. Those who aspire to inhuman actions must have inhuman help.
Many dealers were also addicts and used their profits to support their habit, but Vigoa did not. His abstinence was not about morality – it was about life and death. “You have to keep the brain clear,” he warned his confederates. “You have to be alert at all times, even when you’re sleeping or making love or with your family. You have to see farther than other men and around corners. You have to see into the hearts of men. You have to read the eyes of your enemy and know they are about to strike, or someday they will try to kill you.” (106)
Vigoa teaches sobriety and vigilance for the same reason that the eco-extremists do: not out of morality but for an individualistic end. The eco-extremist end is attack, and enemies are everywhere. Sobriety and vigilance are always needed. Some would say that this amounts to asceticism: that such a life is an unnecessary embrace of hardship for some sort of inverse moral end. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is hyper-civilized man who expects to be defended by his technology, his buildings, and morality. Even the most a-moral of hyper-civilized egoists relies on civilization and its pomps for his “a-morality”. The real condition of man without civilization is one of constant vigilance: in the jungle, in the forest, on the plain, and on the seas. We are so cut off from our senses and a life of engagement with wild things that we think a life of vigilance and sobriety is one of deprivation. The alternative, however, is the life of the zoo animal: we are under no physical threat because we live in cages. At the very least, the eco-extremist resists the life of the cage, even if only to attack and return to fight another day. The alternative is to try to find freedom in the cage, which is an absurdity.
“In a way, Pedro’s vanishing act was a good thing,” Vigoa says later. “We were tested. After Pedro got chased off from valet parking, we didn’t fall apart or panic. This is the way it is in real combat. There always are surprises. Nothing ever goes the way it is supposed to go, and a plan is only a first step. There always will be an ebb and flow in the fight. It’s how you react to surprises that matter. We did well.” (146-147)
The context for this reflection is the MGM heist that Vigoa’s crew carried out, and the lesson here is obvious. We will move on then.
Although not the most lucrative robbery, the Mandalay Bay heist will be the gang’s model heist- blazing fast, without resistance, and exactly according to plan. The actual robbery of the two Brink’s guards takes less than one minute, and the getaway even less time. By the time police arrive, the gunmen are long gone. No one can agree in which direction the suspects fled, descriptions of the getaway vehicle vary, some witnesses describe the bandits as black men, and there’s no ballistic evidence or fingerprints. (186)
This is a good summary of Vigoa’s crew’s tactics, which emphasized speed and precision in carrying out robberies and getaways.
Like the shark, Vigoa thought he was driven by a primal urge, even addiction, beyond his control. Perhaps his robberies were not about good or evil, money, revenge for past injustices, or even family. They were about power, violence, danger, and the thrill of the hunt. The sharks did what they did without remorse, and so did Vigoa. The police could not possibly comprehend this, Vigoa thought. They have no idea who or what they are dealing with. (158)
It is odd that all of the “green anarchists”, in spite of their efforts at “re-wilding” and anthropological studies of primitive peoples, cannot understand what a common criminal learned so well. That is, violence was not a means to an end in “primitive” life, but often an end unto itself: a way of life. The thrill of the hunt and the raid is not taken up by the re-wilding hippy in our day and age, but by the criminal and the thug, with all of their contradictions and selfishness.
All in all, maybe the Vigoa crew could never function with the precision of the Spetsnaz commandos, but they could be taught to obey simple orders and execute Vigoa’s well-drawn plans. Later he would write: “One of my special skills, in war and in crime, was to drill my men hard by simulating the mission again and again, sometimes twenty or thirty times. There was no room for error. The police and military find this out all the time, Even when you train well, there will be mistakes. In my business, I can commit five successful robberies, but if I make one small mistake or allow my men to become careless and undisciplined, then we will all die or go to prison with long elephant sentences. (161)
This begins a crucial part of the book where Vigoa begins to describe his methodology in more detail. Here we see that Vigoa, because he is a man of action, has no problem with wielding authority. Although eco-extremists tend to be individualists, they have no problem with authority, as it is conceivable that a situation might emerge where a small group will form to carry out a particular action. Unlike the anarchist or leftist, organization is not a function of ideology but of effectiveness in an ad hoc situation where speed and precision are of the utmost importance. Thus, there is no problem with authority in eco-extremism.
And by now the team could recite the Vigoa’s Rules almost word for word:
- No talking during a job, except when “freezing” the victim (ordering him to stop and drop his weapon). Absolute silence among unit members.
- Plan A: Disarm the guards. Plan B: Kill them without hesitation if they resist.
- Vigoa, and Vigoa alone, gives the orders when to retire to the getaway car.
- The second getaway vehicle (technically known as the first lay-off car) will be within running distance of the job because the armored car driver has been taught to use the truck as a battering ram and could damage the first car at the crime scene.
- A minimum of three lay-off cars per job. These vehicles, plus the first getaway car – the one whose license plate number everyone writes down in great excitement – make a total of four cars per job.
- Speed is essential – one minute and out. (When Suarez starts to protest that it will take this much time just to gather up the loot, Vigoa cuts him off: “This is not the movies, chico, people have cell phones, they call 911, and the stupids [the police] will race out of their doughnut shops for a little action.”)
- No lay-off cars to be stored in casino lots, because security has been writing down plate numbers. Use apartment lots.
- Chaos is key. (Vigoa to crew: “Who knows what modus operandi means?” Silence. “Good, because we don’t have one. Be unpredictable. This is war. Predictability gets you killed.”)
- Leave nothing behind.
- Ski masks and dark clothing. Always wear gloves. Leave the masks on until we reach the third getaway car. (165-166)
In these rules, we see again the emphasis on authority, speed and precision. But we also see a nod to chaos. Eco-extremists seek to be chaos, or Wild Nature, in a domesticated and artificial society. They too have no modus operandi. They want nothing from society except to lash out, so their methods are not that different from their ends: they attack for the sake of attack. This allows them to be unpredictable just as Vigoa sought to be.
I don’t want to kill nobody in my robberies. I didn’t want to kill the guards at the shopping center. But after the Desert Inn, I realize that every American has to be a cowboy. I call this the hero bullshit. You gotta be John Wayne and Mel Gibson and Bruce Willis, and you do stupid things and force me to do what I do, which is not stupid at all because to survive I will blow your fucking brains out. I will send you on the train to hell on a whim. My whim. (223)
This passage describes what happened when Vigoa and his crew attempted to rob an armored car and had to kill both of the security guards because they decided to fight back. Again, the hyper-civilized defend civilization even when it is not in their material interests. Call them what you want, but they are not the friends of the individualist, or of Wild Nature for that matter.
I wasn’t high or drunk, but I was confident. Too confident. It was the mood of the party. I felt good and mellow, almost in a trance. I felt invincible and it was then that I let my guard down. Just like the hotels did when the soft wealthies, lawyers, and accountants took over from the tough Italian gangsters. (248-249)
Vigoa here describes how being off-guard led to his downfall. During his robbery of the Bellagio, Vigoa wore the wrong hat and was identified by security cameras, leading to his face being shown all over the news. This is also a warning against the double-life: Vigoa was a family man and he let a family party relax him too much and make him lose his focus. Ultimately, this is why he was caught: one part of his double life contaminated the other.
On June 3, 2002, I was ready to touch down, to take off from the Clark County Jail at nighttime. It was to be a good and final gift from me to all the law enforcement people, not to mention publicity for the DA and something to keep the news people busy. But something unexpected and unplanned happened. A friend of mine got caught with prison-made wine. The police asked me if they could come into my cell for a second because someone got caught with wine, and the police wanted to know if I had some. They looked around, and they didn’t find nothing. I had been working that day on the window, doing my last work, but I did not have the metal plates attached very well or disguised, because the cell search was so sudden, and I was so close to checking out – and the new correction officer without experience discovered my work by accident. It was one lucky shot. (335)
After Vigoa was caught, one of his crew was prepared to testify against Vigoa in exchange for leniency. This person, however, ended up hanging himself in his cell under mysterious circumstances. In spite of being on lockdown most of the day, Vigoa was trying to saw through the bars of his windows and escape. This testifies to Vigoa’s indomitable spirit: even when he was on the verge of being condemned to life in prison, he still found it possible to attempt to escape.
The tone of our first and subsequent interviews is businesslike and even cordial. But when Vigoa compares the Ross gunfight and tragic deaths to war, I interrupt. “Robbing people at gunpoint is not war,” I say. “Robbing people at gunpoint for self enrichment and then shooting them when they resist is murder.”
Vigoa’s face darkens. He gives me a hard look, and we lock eyes. There’s a long pause, then he sighs. “You’re right, it’s not war,” Vigoa says. “Well, maybe a little bit like war. In war we kill not only soldiers but innocent people too. But sometimes a man has no choice.” Vigoa is still stunned that the guards at the Desert Inn and Ross risked their lives for someone else’s money. (354-355)
When interrogated by the author of the book, Vigoa resists hyper-civilized morality, and refuses to exclude the “innocent” in his indiscriminate attacks. Again, it is very telling that he understands what so many “learned” people fail to get: that the innocent are not all that innocent, and the person “doing his job” is precisely what is upholding civilization.
“Jose Vigoa is an example of the criminal to be most feared in the future,” Sheriff Bill Young said. “We in American law enforcement know exactly how to deal with the homegrown street thug but are way behind the curve with the foreign born and trained, who are smart and not committing crimes because they are addicted or need money for drugs. We’re seeing more and more of these types in Vegas, particularly from the Middle East, the Baltic states, and South America. Their values are far different from ours, and the ruthless side they display leaves many American cops stunned. Many of these guys have military backgrounds and are sophisticated and well read. It’s going to take a concerted effort on our part to effectively deal with the Jose Vigoas of the world.”
The story of Jose Manuel Vigoa Perez, it turns out, is very much the story of our times. (364)
Thus ends John Huddy’s book on a great individualist prisoner who will spend the rest of his life in a U.S. prison. From this passage, it is clear that Jose Vigoa was a trend-setter: a foreshadowing of things to come. It is my belief that eco-extremism shares many of the same characteristics that the sheriff describes here: people who are trained (even if self-trained), indiscriminately violent, well read, and committed to the criminal enterprise. As the fabric of society continues to unravel, violence and those who commit it will become increasingly atomized, disorganized (in the institutional sense), and ruthless in their methods. This is not so much a prediction as it is a reading of the inevitable. “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold…”
The eco-extremist is one who has given him or herself over to the chaos that threatens techno-industrial civilization. They will learn from Jose Vigoa, from primitive tribes, from fellow terrorists, and from whoever can offer examples on how to carry out a personal war in extreme defense of Wild Nature, even if this defense is merely exacting an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.
Huddy, John. Storming Las Vegas: How a Cuban-Born, Soviet-Trained Commando Took Down the Strip to the Tune of Five World-Class Hotels, Three Armored Cars, and Millions of Dollars. New York: Ballantine Books, 2008
Anyone can put an end to tossing about in the slavery of what they don’t know—and refusing the sop of empty words, come to daggers with life.
Life is no more than a continual search for something to cling to. One gets up in the morning to find oneself in bed a mere matter of hours later, a sad commuter between lack of desire and fatigue. Time passes, spurring us less and less. Social obligations no longer seem to break our backs as we have got used to spreading the weight. We obey without even taking the trouble to say yes. Death is expiated by living, wrote the poet from another trench.
We can live without passion or dreams—that is the great liberty this society offers us. We can talk endlessly, particularly of things we know nothing about. We can express any opinion we like, even the most daring, and disappear behind the murmuring. We can vote for the candidate we prefer, demanding the right to complain in exchange. We can change channels at any time should we seem to be getting dogmatic. We can enjoy ourselves at specific moments, traversing sadly identical environments at increasing speed. We can appear to be young hotheads before receiving icy bucketfuls of common sense. We can get wed as often as we like, so sacred is marriage. We can employ ourselves usefully and, if we can’t write, become journalists. We can do politics in a thousand ways, even talking about exotic guerrillas. In careers as in love, if we don’t quite make it to giving orders we can always excel in obeying. Obedience can even make martyrs of us and in spite of appearances, this society needs heroes.
Our stupidity certainly won’t seem any worse than anyone else’s. It doesn’t matter if we can’t make up our minds, we can let others decide for us. Then, we will take a stand, as they say in the jargon of politics and the spectacle. There is never any lack of justification, especially in the world of those who aren’t fussy.
In this great fairground of roles we all have one loyal ally: money. Democratic par excellence, it respects no one in particular. In its presence no commodity or service can be denied us. It has the whole of society behind it, no matter who it belongs to. Of course this ally never gives enough of itself and, moreover, does not give itself to all. But the hierarchy of money is a special one, uniting what the conditions of life set against each other. When you have it, you are always right. When you don’t, you have plenty of extenuating circumstances.
With a bit of practice we could get through a whole day without one single idea. Daily routine thinks in place of us. From work to ‘free time’, everything comes about within the continuity of survival. We always have something to cling to. The most stupefying characteristic of today’s society is the ability for ‘comfort’ to exist a hair’s breadth from catastrophe. The economy and the technological administration of the existent are advancing with irresponsible recklessness. One slips from entertainment to large-scale massacre with the disciplined insensitivity of programmed gestures. Death’s buying and selling extends over the whole of time and space. Risk and brave effort no longer exist; there remains only security or disaster, routine or catastrophe. Saved or submerged. Alive, never.
With a bit of practice we could walk from home to school, the office to the supermarket or the bank to the disco, eyes closed. Now we can understand the adage of that old Greek sage: ‘The dormant also maintain the world order’.
The time has come to break away from this we, a reflex of the only community that now exists, that of authority and commodities.
One part of this society has every interest in its continuing to rule, the other in everything collapsing as soon as possible. Deciding which side one is on is the first step. But resignation, the basis of the agreement between the sides (improvers of the existent and its false critics) is everywhere, even in our own lives—the authentic place of the social war—in our desires and resoluteness as well as in our little daily submissions.
It is necessary to come to daggers with all that, to finally come to daggers with life.
It is by doing things that need to be learned in order to be done, that you learn them.
The secret is to really begin.
The present social organisation is not just delaying, it is also preventing and corrupting any practice of freedom. The only way to learn what freedom is, is to experiment it, and to do so you must have the necessary time and space.
The fundamental premise for free action is dialogue. Now, any authentic discourse requires two conditions: a real interest in the questions brought up to be discussed (the problem of content) and the free search for possible answers (the problem of method). These two conditions should occur at the same time, given that the content determines the method, and vice versa. One can only talk of freedom in freedom. What is the point of asking questions if we are not free to answer? What is the point of answering if the questions are always false? Dialogue only exists when individuals can talk to each other without mediation, i.e. when they relate reciprocally. If the discourse is one-way, no communication is possible. If someone has the power to impose the questions, the content of the latter will be directly functional to this (and the answers will contain subjection). Subjects can only be asked questions whose answers confirm their role as such, and from which the bosses will draw the questions of the future. The slavery lies in continuing to reply.
In this sense market research is identical to the elections. The sovereignty of the elector corresponds to the sovereignty of the consumer, and vice versa. TV passivity is called audience; the legitimation of the power of the State is called sovereign people. In either case individuals are simply hostages in a mechanism that gives them the right to speak after having deprived them of the faculty of doing so. What is the point of dialogue if all you can do is elect one or the other? What is communication if all your only choice is between identical goods and TV programmes? The content of the questions is meaningless because the method is false.
‘Nothing resembles a representative of the bourgeoisie more than a representative of the proletariat,’ Sorel wrote in 1907. What made them identical was the fact that they were, precisely, representatives. To say the same of a right or left wing candidate today would be banal. But politicians do not need to be original (advertising takes care of that), it is sufficient for them to know how to administer that banality. The irony is that the media are defined a means of communication and the voting spree is called elections (which in the true sense of the word means free, conscious decision).
The point is that power does not allow for any other kind of management. Even if the voters wanted it (which would already take us into full ‘utopia’, to imitate the language of the realists), nothing important could be asked of them from the moment that the only free act—the only authentic election—they could accomplish would be not to vote. Anyone who votes wants inconsequential questions, as authentic questions deny passivity and delegation. We will explain better.
Imagine that the abolition of capitalism were to be requested through referendum (putting aside the fact that such a question is impossible in the context of existing social relations). Most of the electorate would vote in favour of capitalism simply because, as they tranquilly leave home, the office or the supermarket, they cannot imagine a world other than one with commodities and money. But even if they were to vote against it nothing would change as, to be authentic, such a question would exclude the existence of voters. A whole society cannot be changed by decree.
The same could be said for less radical questions. Take the example of the housing estate. What would happen if the inhabitants were able (once again, we would be in ‘utopia’) to express themselves concerning the organisation of their own lives (housing, streets, squares, etc.)? Let us say right away that such demands would inevitably be limited from the start, because housing estates are a consequence of the displacement and concentration of the population according to the needs of the economy and social control. Nevertheless, we could try to imagine some form of social organisation other than such ghettos. One could safely say that most of the population would have the same ideas as the police on the subject. Otherwise (that is, if even limited practice of dialogue were to give rise to the desire for a new environment), this would mean the explosion of the ghetto. How, under the present social order, do you reconcile the inhabitants’ desire to breathe with the interests of the bosses of the motor industry? Free circulation of individuals with the fears of the luxury boutique owners? Children’s play areas with the cement of the car parks, banks and shopping centres? The empty houses left in the hands of the speculators? The blocks of flats that look like army barracks, that look like schools, that look like hospitals, that look like asylums? To move one wall in this labyrinth of horrors would mean putting the whole scheme in question. The further we move away from a police-like view of the environment, the closer we get to clashing with the police.
How can you think freely in the shadow of a church? wrote an anonymous hand on the sacred wall of the Sorbonne during May ’68. This impeccable question has wider implications. Anything that has been designed for economic or religious purposes cannot fail to impose anything but economic or religious desires. A desecrated church continues to be the house of God. Commodities continue their chatter in an abandoned shopping centre. The parade ground of a disused barracks still contains the marching of the soldiers. That is what he who said that the destruction of the Bastille was an act of applied social psychology meant. The Bastille could never have been managed as anything other than a prison, because its walls would have continued to tell the tale of incarcerated bodies and desires.
Subservience, obligation and boredom espouse consumerism in endless funereal nuptials. Work reproduces the social environment which reproduces the resignation to work. One enjoys evenings in front of the TV because one has spent the day in the office and the underground. Keeping quiet in the factory makes shouting in the stadia a promise of happiness. Feelings of inadequacy at school vindicate the insensate irresponsibility of a Saturday night at the disco. Only eyes emerging from a McDonald’s are capable of lighting up when they see a Club Med billboard. Et cetera.
You need to know how to experience freedom in order to be free. You need to free yourself in order to experience freedom. Within the present social order, time and space prevent experimentation of freedom because they suffocate the freedom to experiment.
The tygers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.
Only by upsetting the imperatives of time and social space will it be possible to imagine new relations and surroundings. The old philosopher said one can only desire on the basis of what one knows. Desires can only change if one changes the life that produces them. Let’s be clear about this: rebellion against the organisation of time and space by power is a material and psychological necessity.
Bakunin said that revolutions are three quarters fantasy and a quarter reality. The important thing is realising where the fantasy that leads to the explosion of generalised rebellion originates. The unleashing of all evil passions, as the Russian revolutionary said, is the irresistible force of transformation. For all that this might make the resigned or the cold analysts of the historical movements of capital smile, we could say—if we did not find such jargon indigestible—that such an idea of revolution is extremely modern. Passions are evil, in that they are prisoners suffocated by that gelid monster, normality. But they are also evil because the will to live rather than shrink under the weight of duty and masks, transforms itself into quite the opposite. When restricted by daily duties, life denies itself to reappear in the guise of a servant. Desperately searching for space, it manifests itself as an oneiric presence, a physical contraction, a nervous tic, idiotic, gregarious violence. Does not the massive spread of psychotic drugs, one of the latest interventions of the welfare State, denounce the unbearableness of the present conditions of life? Power administers captivity everywhere in order to justify one of its own products: evil. Insurrection takes care of both of them.
If they do not wish to deceive themselves and others, those struggling for the demolition of the present social edifice must face the fact that subversion is a game of wild, barbarous forces. Someone referred to them as Cossacks, someone else hooligans; in fact they are individuals whose anger has not been quelled by social peace.
But how do you create a new community starting from anger? Let us put a stop to the conjuring tricks of dialectics. The exploited are not carriers of any positive project, be it even the classless society (which all too closely resembles the productive set up). Capital is their only community. They can only escape by destroying everything that makes them exploited: wages, commodities, roles and hierarchies. Capitalism has not created the conditions of its overcoming in communism—the famous bourgeoisie forging the arms of its own extinction—but of a world of horrors.
The exploited have nothing to self-manage but their own negation as such. That is the only way that their bosses, leaders and apologists in various guises will disappear along with them. In this ‘immense task of urgent demolition’ we must find joy, immediately.
For the Greeks the word ‘barbarian’ did not only refer to the stranger, but also to the ‘stammerer’, he who did not speak the language of the polis correctly. Language and territory are inseparable. The law fixes the borders enforced by the order of Names. Every power structure has its barbarians, every democratic discourse its stammerers. The society of commodities wants to banish their obstinate presence—with expulsion and silence—as though they were nothing. It is on this nothing that rebellion has founded its cause. No ideology of dialogue and participation will ever be able to mask exclusion and internal colonies completely. When the daily violence of the State and the economy causes the evil part to explode, there is no point in being surprised if someone puts their feet on the table and refuses to accept discussion. Only then will passions get rid of a world of death. The Barbarians are just around the corner.
We must abandon all models, and study our possibilities.
The necessity of insurrection. Not in the sense of inevitability (an event that must take place sooner or later), but in the sense of a concrete condition of possibility. The necessity of the possible. Money is necessary in this society. Yet a life without money is possible. To experience this possibility it is necessary to destroy this society. Today one only experiences what is socially necessary.
Curiously, those who consider insurrection to be a tragic error (or an unrealistic romantic dream) talk a lot about social action and areas of freedom for experimentation. One only has to squeeze such arguments a little, however, for all the juice to come out of them. As we said, in order to act freely it is necessary to be able to talk to each other without mediation. And about what, how much, and where can one engage in dialogue at the present time?
In order to discuss freely one must snatch time and space from social obligations. After all, dialogue is inseparable from struggle. It is inseparable materially (in order to talk to each other it is necessary for us to take time and seize the necessary space) and psychologically (individuals like talking about what they do because that is how words transform reality).
We forget we are all living in a ghetto, even if we don’t pay rent and every day is a Sunday. If we are not capable of destroying this ghetto, the freedom to experiment will be a poor thing indeed.
Many libertarians believe that social change can and must come about gradually, without any sudden rupture. For this reason, they talk of ‘areas free of the State’ in which to elaborate new ideas and practices. Leaving aside the decidedly comical aspects of the question (where does the State not exist? how do you put it in parentheses?), you can see that the point of reference for such questions remains the self-managed federalist methods experimented by subversives at particular times in history (the Paris Commune, revolutionary Spain, the Budapest Commune, etc.). What one omits to say, however, is that the possibility of talking to one another and changing reality was taken by the rebels with arms. In short, a small detail is left out: insurrection. You cannot remove a method (neighbourhood meetings, direct decision-making, horizontal linking up, et cetera) from the context that made it possible, or even draw it up against the latter (e.g. ‘there is no point in attacking the State; we must self-organise, make utopia concrete’). Before thinking about what the proletarian councils signified for example—and what they could signify today—it is necessary to consider the conditions under which they existed (1905 in Russia, 1918–21 in Germany and Italy, et cetera). These were insurrectional times. Will someone please explain how it would be possible for the exploited to decide in first person on questions of any importance today without breaking social normality by force? Only then will you be able to talk about self-management or federalism. Before discussing what self-managing the present productive structures ‘after the revolution’ means, it is necessary to be aware of one simple thing: neither the bosses or the police would agree to it. You cannot discuss a possibility while omitting the conditions required to make it concrete. Any idea of freedom implies a break with the present society.
Let us see one last example. Direct democracy is also talked about in libertarian circles. One could retort that the anarchist utopia opposes itself to the method of majority decision. Right. But the point is that no one talks about direct democracy in real terms. Leaving aside those who pass it off as quite the opposite, i.e. the constitution of civic lists and participation in the municipal elections, let us consider those who imagine real citizens’ assemblies where people talk to each other without mediation. What would the so-called citizens be able to express? How could they reply differently, without changing the questions? How make a distinction between so-called political freedom and the present economic, social and technological conditions? No matter how you twist things, you cannot escape the problem of destruction, unless you think that a technologically centralised society could at the same time become federalist, or that generalised self-management could exist in the true prisons that the cities of the present day have become. To say that all the changes that are necessary could be done gradually merely confuses the issue. Change cannot even begin to take place without widespread revolt. Insurrection is the whole of social relations opening up to the adventure of freedom once the mask of capitalist specialisation has been torn off. Insurrection does not come up with the answers on its own, that is true. It only starts asking questions. So the point is not whether to act gradually or adventuristically. The point is whether to act or merely dream of acting.
The critique of direct democracy (to stick to the same example) must be concrete. Only then is it possible to go beyond and think that the social foundations of individual autonomy really exist. Only then is it possible for this going beyond to become a method of struggle, here and now. Subversives need to criticise other people’s ideas and define them more precisely than those who swear by them.
The better to sharpen their daggers.
It is an axiomatic, self-evident truth that the revolution cannot be made until there are sufficient forces to do so. But it is an historical truth that the forces that determine evolution and social revolutions cannot be calculated with the census lists.
It is out of fashion to believe that social transformation is still possible. The ‘masses’, it is said, are in a deep trance and fully integrated within the social norms. At least two conclusions can be drawn from such a remark. That rebellion is impossible or that it is only possible in small numbers. This either becomes an openly institutional discourse (the need for elections, legal conquests, etc.) or one in favour of social reform (union self-organisation, struggle for collective rights, etc.). The second conclusion can become the basis of the classical vanguardist discourse or of an anti-authoritarian one in favour of permanent agitation.
Here it can be said that throughout history ideas that were apparently in opposition to each other actually share the same roots.
Take social democracy and bolshevism for example: they clearly both came from the supposition that the masses do not have any revolutionary consciousness, so need to be led. Social democrats and Bolsheviks differed only in the methods used—reformist party or revolutionary party, parliamentary strategy or violent conquest of power—in the identical programme of bringing consciousness to the exploited from outside.
Let us take the hypothesis of a ‘minoritarian’ subversive practice that refuses the Leninist model. In a libertarian perspective one either abandons all insurrectional discourse (in favour of a declaredly solitary revolt), or sooner or later it becomes necessary to face the problem of the social implications of one’s ideas and practices. If we don’t want to resolve the question in the ambit of linguistic miracles (for example by saying that the theses we support are already in the heads of the exploited, or that one’s rebellion is already part of a wider condition) one fact remains: we are isolated, which is not the same as saying we are few.
Not only does acting in small numbers not constitute a limit, it represents a totally different way of seeing social transformation. Libertarians are the only people to envisage a dimension of collective life that is not subordinated to central direction. Authentic federalism makes agreements between free unions of individuals possible. Relations of affinity do not exist on the basis of ideology or quantity, but start off from reciprocal knowledge, from feeling and sharing projectual passions. But projectual affinity and autonomous individual action are dead letters if they cannot spread without being sacrificed in the name of some claimed higher necessity. It is the horizontal link that concretises the practice of liberation: an informal link, of fact, without representation. A centralised society cannot exist without police control and a deadly technological apparatus. For this reason, anyone who is incapable of imagining a community without State authority is devoid of instruments with which to criticise the economy that is destroying the planet. Anyone who is incapable of imagining a community of unique individuals has nothing to put in the place of political mediation. On the contrary, the idea of free experimentation in a coming together of like-minded people, with affinity as the basis for new relations, makes complete social upheaval possible. Only by abandoning the idea of centre (the conquest of the Winter Palace or, to bring things up to date, State television) does it become possible to build a life without imposition or money. In such a direction, the method of spreading attacks is a form of struggle that carries a different world within it. To act when everyone advises waiting, when it is not possible to count on great followings, when you do not know beforehand whether you will get results or not, means one is already affirming what one is fighting for: a society without measure. This, then, is how action in small groups of people with affinity contains the most important of qualities—it is not mere tactical contrivance, but already contains the realisation of one’s goal. Liquidating the lie of the transitional period (dictatorship before communism, power before freedom, wages before taking the lot, certainty of the results before taking action, requests for financing before expropriation, ‘ethical banks’ before anarchy, etc.) means making the revolt itself a different way of conceiving relations. Attacking the technological hydra right away means imagining a life without white-coated policemen (i.e. without the economic or scientific organisation that makes them necessary); attacking the instruments of domestication by the media now means creating relations that are free from images (i.e. free from the passivity that fabricates them). Anyone who starts screaming that it is no longer—or not yet—time for rebellion, is revealing the kind of society they want in advance. On the other hand, to stress the need for social insurrection now—an uncontainable movement that breaks with historical time to allow the emergence of the possible—simply means: we want no leaders. Today the only real federalism is generalised rebellion.
If we refuse centralisation we must go beyond the quantitative idea of rallying the exploited for a frontal clash with power. It is necessary to think of another concept of strength—burn the census lists and change reality.
Main rule: do not act en masse. Carry out actions in three or four at the most. There should be as many small groups as possible and each of them must learn to attack and disappear quickly. The police attempt to crush a crowd of thousands with one single group of a hundred cossacks.
It is easier to defeat a hundred men than one alone, especially if they strike suddenly and disappear mysteriously. The police and army will be powerless if Moscow is covered in these small unseizable detachments[…] Do not occupy strongholds. The troops will always be able to take them or simply destroy them with their artillery. Our fortresses will be internal courtyards or any place that it is easy to strike from and leave easily. If they were to take them they would never find anyone and would lose many men. It would be impossible for them to take them all because they to do this they would have to fill every house with cossacks.
—Warning to the Insurgents, Moscow, December 11 1905.
…poesy, … is referred to the Imagination, which may at pleasure make unlawful matches and divorces of things.
Think of another concept of strength. Perhaps this is the new poetry. Basically, what is social revolt if not a generalised game of illegal matching and divorcing of things.
Revolutionary strength is not a strength that is equal to and against that of power. If that were the case we would be defeated before we start, because any change would be the eternal return of constriction. Everything would be reduced to military conflict, a danse macabre of standards. Real movements escape the quantitative glance.
The State and capital possess the most sophisticated systems of control and repression. How can we oppose this Moloch? The secret lies in the art of breaking apart and putting together again. The movement of intelligence is a continual game of breaking up and establishing correspondences. The same goes for subversive practice. Criticising technology, for instance, means considering its general framework, seeing it not simply as an assemblage of machinery, but as a social relation, a system; it means understanding that a technological instrument reflects the society that produces it and that its introduction changes relations between individuals. Criticising technology means refusing to subordinate human activity to profit. Otherwise we would be deceiving ourselves as to the implications of technology, its claims to neutrality, the reversibility of its consequences. It then becomes necessary to break it up into its thousand ramifications, the concrete realisations that are increasingly mutilating us. We need to understand that the spreading of production and control that the new technologies allow makes sabotage easier. It would be impossible to attack them otherwise. The same goes for schools, barracks, and offices. Although they are inseparable from the whole of hierarchical and mercantile relations, they still concretise themselves in specific people and places.
How—when we are so few—can we make ourselves visible to students, workers, unemployed? If one thinks in terms of consensus and image (making oneself visible, to be precise), the reply can be taken for granted: unions and cunning politicians are far stronger than we are. Once again what is lacking is the capacity to put together and break apart. Reformism acts on detail, quantitatively: it mobilises vast numbers of people in order to change a few isolated aspects of power. A global critique of society on the other hand allows a qualitative vision of action to emerge. Precisely because there are no centres or revolutionary subjects to subordinate one’s projects to, each aspect of social reality relates back to the whole of which it is a part. No matter whether it is a question of pollution, prison or urban planning, any really subversive discourse ends up putting everything in question. Today more than ever a quantitative project (of assembling students, workers or unemployed in permanent organisations with a specific programme) can only act on detail, emptying actions of the strength of putting questions that cannot be reduced to a separation into categories (students, workers, immigrants, homosexuals, etc.). All the more so as reformism is less and less capable of reforming anything (think of unemployment and the way it is falsely presented as a resolvable breakdown in economic rationality). Someone said that even the request for nontoxic food has become a revolutionary project, because any attempt to satisfy it would involve changing the whole of social relations. Any demand that is addressed to a precise interlocutor carries its own defeat within it, if for no other reason than that no authority would be capable of resolving a problem of general significance even if it wanted to. To whom does one turn to oppose air pollution?
The workers who, during a wildcat strike, carried a banner saying, ‘We are not asking for anything’ understood that the defeat is in the claim itself (‘the claim against the enemy is eternal’). There is no alternative but to take everything. As Stirner said: ‘No matter how much you give them, they will always ask for more, because what they want is no less than the end of every concession’.
And then? Then, even though you are few you can think of acting without doing so in isolation, in the knowledge that in explosive situations a few good contacts are more useful than large numbers. Sadly, it often happens that rights-claiming social struggles develop more interesting methods than they do objectives (for example, a group of unemployed asking for work ends up burning down a dole office). Of course one could remain aloof, saying that work should not be asked for, but destroyed. Or one could try to link a critique of the whole economy to that so passionately burned office, or a critique of the unions to an act of sabotage. Each individual objective in the struggle contains the violence of the whole of social relations ready to explode. The banality of their immediate cause, as we know, is the calling card of revolts throughout history.
What can a group of resolute comrades do in such situations? Not much, unless they have already thought (for example) about how to give out a leaflet or at what points of the city to widen a protest; and, what is more, if a gay and lawless intelligence makes them forget numbers and great organisational structures.
Without wanting to revive the myth that the general strike is the unshackling of insurrection, it is clear enough that the interruption of all social activity is still decisive. Subversive action must tend towards the paralysis of normality, no matter what originally caused the clash. If students continue to study, workers—those who remain of them—and office employees to work, the unemployed to worry about employment, then no change will be possible. Revolutionary practice will always be above people. Any organisation that is separate from social struggles can neither unleash revolt nor extend and defend it. If it is true that the exploited tend to line up behind those who are able to guarantee economic improvements during the course of the struggle—if it is true, in other words, that any struggle to demand better conditions is necessarily of a reformist character—libertarians could push through methods (individual autonomy, direct action, permanent conflictuality) that go beyond making demands to denying all social identities (teacher, clerk, worker, et cetera). An established libertarian organisation making claims would merely flank the struggles (only a few of the exploited would choose to belong to it), or would lose its libertarian characteristics (the trades unions are the best qualified in the field of syndicalist struggles). An organisational structure formed by revolutionaries and exploited is only really in conflict if it is in tune with the temporary nature of one specific struggle, has a clear aim and is in the perspective of attack. In a word, if it is a critique in act of the union and its collaboration with the bosses.
We cannot say that subversives have a great capacity to launch social struggles (anti-militarist, against environmental toxicity, et cetera) at the moment. There remains (for all those who do not maintain that ‘people are accomplice and resigned’) the hypothesis of autonomous intervention in struggles—or in the fairly extensive acts of rebellion—that arise spontaneously. If we are looking for a clear expression of the kind of society the exploited are fighting for (as one subtle theoretician claimed in the face of a recent wave of strikes), we might as well stay at home. If we simply limit ourselves—which is not very different—to ‘critical support’, we are merely adding our red and black flags to those of the parties and unions. Once again critique of detail espouses the quantitative model. If we think that when the unemployed talk about the right to work we should be doing the same (making the obvious distinction between wages and ‘socially useful activity’), then the only place for action seems to be streets full of demonstrators. As old Aristotle was aware, representation is only possible where there is unity of time and place.
But who said it is not possible to talk to the unemployed of sabotage, the abolition of rights, or the refusal to pay rent (whilst practising it at the same time)? Who said that when workers come out into the streets on strike, the economy cannot be criticised elsewhere? To say what the enemy does not expect and be where they are not waiting for us. That is the new poetry.
We are too young, we cannot wait any longer.
—A wall in Paris
The force of an insurrection is social, not military. Generalised rebellion is not measured by the armed clash but by the extent to which the economy is paralysed, the places of production and distribution taken over, the free giving that burns all calculation and the desertion of obligations and social roles. In a word, it is the upsetting of life. No guerrilla group, no matter how effective, can take the place of this grandiose movement of destruction and transformation. Insurrection is the light emergence of a banality coming to the surface: no power can support itself without the voluntary servitude of those it dominates. Revolt reveals better than anything else that it is the exploited themselves who make the murderous machinery of exploitation function. The wild, spreading interruption of social activity suddenly tears away the blanket of ideology, revealing the real balance of strength. The State then shows itself in its true colours—the political organisation of passivity. Ideology on one side, fantasy on the other, expose their material weight. The exploited simply discover the strength they have always had, putting an end to the illusion that society reproduces itself alone—or that some mole is clawing away in their place. They rise up against their past obedience—their past State—and habits established in defence of the old world. The conspiracy of insurgents is the only instance when ‘collectivity’ is not the darkness that gives away the flight of the fireflies to the police, or the lie that makes ‘common good’ of individual ill-being. It is what gives differences the strength of complicity. Capital is above all a community of informers, union that weakens individuals, unity that keeps us divided. Social conscience is an inner voice that repeats ‘Others accept’. In this way the real strength of the exploited acts against them. Insurrection is the process that unleashes this strength, and along with it autonomy and the pleasure of living; it is the moment when we think reciprocally that the best thing we can do for others is to free ourselves. In this sense it is ‘a collective movement of individual realisation’.
The normality of work and ‘time off’, the family and consumerism, kills every evil passion for freedom. (As we write these words we are forcibly separated from our own kind, and this separation relieves the State from the burden of prohibiting us from writing). No change is possible without a violent break with habit. But revolt is always the work of a minority. The masses are at hand, ready to become instruments of power (for the slave who rebels, ‘power’ is both the bosses’ orders and the obedience of the other slaves) or to accept the changes taking place out of inertia. The greatest general wildcat strike in history—May ’68—involved only a fifth of the population of a State. It does not follow from this that the only objective can be to take over power so as to direct the masses, or that it is necessary to present oneself as the consciousness of the proletariat. There can be no immediate leap from the present society to freedom. The servile, passive attitude is not something that can resolve itself in a few days or months. But the opposite of this attitude must carve out a space for itself and take its own time. The social upheaval is merely the necessary condition for it to start.
Contempt for the ‘masses’ is not qualitative, but ideological, that is, it is subordinated to the dominant representation. The ‘people’ of capital exist, certainly, but they do not have any precise form.
It is still from the anonymous mass that the unknown with the will to live arise in mutiny. To say we are the only rebels in a sea of submission is reassuring because it puts an end to the game in advance. We are simply saying that we do not know who our accomplices are and that we need a social tempest to discover them. Today each of us decides to what extent others cannot decide (it is the abdication of one’s capacity to choose that makes the world of automaton function). During the insurrection choice elbows its way in, armed, and it is with arms that it must be defended because it is on the corpse of the insurrection that reaction is born. Although minoritarian (but in respect to what unit of measure?) in its active forces, the insurrectional phenomenon can take on extremely wide dimensions, and in this respect reveals its social nature. The more extensive and enthusiastic the rebellion, the less it can be measured in the military clash. As the armed self-organisation of the exploited extends, revealing the fragility of the social order, one sees that revolt, just like hierarchical and mercantile relations, is everywhere. On the contrary, anyone who sees the revolution as a coup d’état has a militaristic view of the clash. An organisation that sets itself up as vanguard of the exploited tends to conceal the fact that domination is a social relation, not simply a general headquarters to be conquered; otherwise how could it justify its role?
The most useful thing one can do with arms is to render them useless as quickly as possible. But the problem of arms remains abstract until it is linked to the relationship between revolutionary and exploited, between organisation and real movement.
Too often revolutionaries have claimed to be the exploited’s consciousness and to represent their level of subversive maturity. The ‘social movement’ thus becomes the justification for the party (which in the Leninist version becomes an elite of professionals of the revolution). The vicious circle is that the more one separates oneself from the exploited, the more one needs to represent an inexistent relationship. Subversion is reduced to one’s own practices, and representation becomes the organisation of an ideological racket—the bureaucratic version of capitalist appropriation. The revolutionary movement then identifies with its ‘most advanced’ expression, which realises its concept. The Hegelian dialectic of totality offers a perfect system for this construction.
But there is also a critique of separation and representation that justifies waiting and accepts the role of the critic. With the pretext of not separating oneself from the ‘social movement’, one ends up denouncing any practice of attack as a ‘flight forward’ or mere ‘armed propaganda’. Once again revolutionaries are called to ‘unmask’ the real conditions of the exploited, this time by their very inaction. No revolt is consequently possible other than in a visible social movement. So anyone who acts must necessarily want to take the place of the proletariat. The only patrimony to defend becomes ‘radical critique’, ‘revolutionary lucidity’. Life is miserable, so one cannot do anything but theorise misery. Truth before anything else. In this way the separation between subversive and exploited is not eliminated, only displaced. We are no longer exploited alongside the exploited; our desires, rage and weaknesses are no longer part of the class struggle. It’s not as if we can act when we feel like it: we have a mission—even if it doesn’t call itself that—to accomplish. There are those who sacrifice themselves to the proletariat through action and those who do so through passivity.
This world is poisoning us and forcing us to carry out useless noxious activity; it imposes the need for money on us and deprives us of impassioned relationships. We are growing old among men and women without dreams, strangers in a reality which leaves no room for outbursts of generosity. We are not partisans of abnegation. It’s just that the best this society can offer us (a career, fame, a sudden win, ‘love’) simply doesn’t interest us. Giving orders disgusts us just as much as obedience. We are exploited like everyone else and want to put an end to exploitation right away. For us, revolt needs no other justification.
Our lives are escaping us, and any class discourse that fails to start from this is simply a lie. We do not want to direct or support social movements, but rather to participate in those that already exist, to the extent to which we recognise common needs in them. In an excessive perspective of liberation there are no such things as superior forms of struggle. Revolt needs everything: papers and books, arms and explosives, reflection and swearing, poison, daggers and arson. The only interesting question is how to combine them.
It is easy to hit a bird flying in a straight line.
Not only do we desire to change our lives immediately, it is the criterion by which we are seeking our accomplices. The same goes for what one might call a need for coherency. The will to live one’s ideas and create theory starting from one’s own life is not a search for the exemplary or the hierarchical, paternalistic side of the same coin. It is the refusal of all ideology, including that of pleasure. We set ourselves apart from those who content themselves with areas they manage to carve out—and safeguard—for themselves in this society even before we begin to think, by the very way we palpate our existence. But we feel just as far removed from those who would like to desert daily normality and put their faith in the mythology of clandestinity and combat organisations, locking themselves up in other cages. No role, no matter how much it puts one at risk in terms of the law, can take the place of the real changing of relations. There is no short-cut, no immediate leap into the elsewhere. The revolution is not a war.
In the past the inauspicious ideology of arms transformed the need for coherence of the few into the gregariousness of the many. May arms finally turn themselves against ideology!
An individual with a passion for social upheaval and a ‘personal’ vision of the class clash wants to do something immediately. If he or she analyses the transformation of capital and the State it is in order to attack them, certainly not so as to be able to go to sleep with clearer ideas. If they have not introjected the prohibitions and distinctions of the prevailing law and morals, they draw up the rules of their own game, using every instrument possible. Contrary to the writer or the soldier for whom these are professional affairs so have a mercantile identity, the pen and the revolver are equally arms for them. The subversive remains subversive even without pen or gun, so long as he possesses the weapon that contains all the others: his own resoluteness.
‘Armed struggle’ is a strategy that could be put at the service of any project. The guerrilla is still used today by organisations whose programmes are substantially social democratic; they simply support their demands with military practice. Politics can also be done with arms. In any negotiation with power—that is, any relationship that maintains the latter as interlocutor, be it even as adversary—the negotiators must present themselves as a representative force. From this perspective, representing a social reality means reducing it to one’s own organisation. The armed clash must not spread spontaneously but be linked to the various phases of negotiation. The organisation will manage the results. Relations among members of the organisation and between the latter and the rest of the world reflect what an authoritarian programme is: they take hierarchy and obedience seriously.
The problem is not all that different for those aiming for the violent conquest of political power. It is a question of propagandising one’s strength as a vanguard capable of directing the revolutionary movement. ‘Armed struggle’ is presented as the superior form of social struggle. Whoever is more militarily representative—thanks to the spectacular success of the actions—constitutes the authentic armed party. The staged trials and people’s tribunals that result are acts of those who want to put themselves in place of the State.
For its part, the State has every interest in reducing the revolutionary threat to a few combatant organisations in order to transform subversion into a clash between two armies: the institutions on the one hand, the armed party on the other. What power fears most is anonymous, generalised rebellion. The media image of the ‘terrorist’ works hand in hand with the police in the defence of social peace. No matter whether the citizen applauds or is scared he is still a citizen, i.e., a spectator.
The reformist embellishment of the existent feeds armed mythology, producing the false alternative between legal and clandestine politics. It suffices to note how many left democrats are sincerely moved by the figure of the guerrilla in Mexico and Latin America. Passivity requires advisors and specialists. When it is disappointed by the traditional ones it lines up behind the new.
An armed organisation—with a programme and a monogram—specific to revolutionaries, can certainly have libertarian characteristics, just as the social revolution desired by many anarchists is undoubtedly also an ‘armed struggle’. But is that enough?
If we recognise the need to organise the armed deed during the insurrectional clash, if we support the possibility of attacking the structures and men of power from this minute on, and consider the horizontal linking of affinity groups in practices of revolt to be decisive, we are criticising the perspective of those who see armed action as the transcendence of the limits of social struggles, attributing a superior role to one form of struggle. Moreover, by the use of monograms and programmes we see the creation of an identity that separates revolutionaries from the rest of the exploited, making them visible to power and putting them in a condition that lends itself to representation. In this way the armed attack is no longer just one of the many instruments of one’s liberation, but is charged with a symbolic value and tends to appropriate anonymous rebellion to its own ends. The informal organisation as a fact linked to the temporary aspect of struggles becomes a permanent and formalised decision-making structure. In this way what was an occasion for meeting in one’s projects becomes a veritable project in itself. The organisation begins to desire to reproduce itself, exactly like the quantitative reformist structures do. Inevitably the sad trousseau of communiques and documents appear, where one raises one’s voice and finds oneself chasing an identity that exists only because it has been declared. Actions of attack that are quite similar to other simply anonymous ones come to represent who knows what qualitative leap in revolutionary practice. The schema of politics reappears as one starts flying in a straight line.
Of course, the need to organise is something that can always accompany subversives’ practice beyond the temporary requirements of a struggle. But in order to organise oneself there is a need for living, concrete agreements, not an image in search of spotlights.
The secret of the subversive game is the capacity to smash deforming mirrors and find oneself face to face with one’s own nakedness. Organisation is the whole of the projects that make this game come alive. All the rest is political prosthesis and nothing else.
Insurrection is far more than ‘armed struggle’, because during it the generalised clash is at one with the upsetting of the social order. The old world is upturned to the extent to which the insurgent exploited are all armed. Only then are arms not the separate expression of some vanguard, the monopoly of the bosses and bureaucrats of the future, but the concrete condition of the revolutionary feast: the collective possibility of widening and defending the transformation of social relations. Subversive practice is even less ‘armed struggle’ in the absence of the insurrectional rupture, unless one wants to restrict the immensity of one’s passions to no more than a few instruments. It is a question of contenting oneself with preestablished roles, or seeking coherency in the most remote point, life.
Then, in the spreading revolt we will really be able to perceive a marvellous conspiracy of egos aimed at creating a society without bosses or dormant. A society of free and unique individuals.
Don’t ask for the formula for opening up worlds to you in some syllable like a bent dry branch. Today, we can only tell you what we are not, what we don’t want.
Life cannot simply be something to cling to. This thought skims through everyone at least once. We have a possibility that makes us freer than the gods: we can quit. This is an idea to be savoured to the end. Nothing and no one is obliging us to live. Not even death. For that reason our life is a tabula rasa, a slate on which nothing has been written, so contains all the words possible. With such freedom, we cannot live as slaves. Slavery is for those who are condemned to live, those constrained to eternity, not for us. For us there is the unknown—the unknown of spheres to be ventured into, unexplored thoughts, guarantees that explode, strangers to whom to offer a gift of life. The unknown of a world where one might finally be able to give away one’s excess self love. Risk too. The risk of brutality and fear. The risk of finally staring mal de vivre in the face. All this is encountered by anyone who decides to put an end to the job of existing.
Our contemporaries seem to live by jobbing, desperately juggling with a thousand obligations including the saddest of all of them—enjoying themselves. They cover up the incapacity to determine their own lives with detailed frenetic activity, the speed that accompanies increasingly passive ways of behaving. They are unaware of the lightness of the negative.
We can choose not to live. That is the most beautiful reason for opening oneself up to life with joy. ‘There is always time to put an end to things; one might as well rebel and play’—is how the materialism of joy talks.
We can choose not to act, and that is the most beautiful reason for acting. We bear within ourselves the potency of all the acts we are capable of, and no boss will ever be able to deprive us of the possibility of saying no. What we are and what we want begins with a no. From it is born the only reason for getting up in the morning. From it is born the only reason for going armed to the assault of an order that is suffocating us.
On the one hand there is the existent, with its habits and certainties. And of certainty, that social poison, one can die.
On the other hand there is insurrection, the unknown bursting into the life of all. The possible beginning of an exaggerated practice of freedom.
Conspiracy of Cells of Fire – Nemesis Project – Act 2
Nine Years after the first appearance of the Conspiracy of Cells of Fire in January 2008.
After more than 300 attacks against targets of domination that resulted in tens of millions of euros in damage and the transferring of fear to the camp of power.
After more than 60 arrests of comrades and other individuals over the years who have been accused of being our members and the thousands of years of imprisonment imposed upon them.
After so many times that Ministers and Police Chiefs have declared in the media that they have managed to ‘dismantle’ us and that “the CCF is finished.”
After the inclusion of the CCF in lists of ‘terrorist’ organizations by the State Department in the US and by Europol in the EU.
…we continue even louder.
With the creation of an international conspiratorial network of FAI and CCF cells in dozens of countries that have carried out and continue to carry out guerrilla attacks.
With even greater passion and tenacity to not only attack the infrastructure of the system but also the people in power.
Always against social apathy.
Always against the oppressors of our lives.
Still they cannot understand that the CCF is an idea and that the idea cannot be imprisoned because it is like the Hydra. For each comrade that is imprisoned, new comrades are ready to take their place and continue on the path of attack.
We still have the rage…
We sent a booby-trapped parcel bomb to the German Minister of Finance within the context of the campaign of the second act of Project Nemesis.
A communique will follow in the coming months.
Rebellious greetings to the FAI comrades in Italy and the imprisoned members of CCF in Greece who remain unrepentant.
Forward for the Black International of Anarchists of Praxis.
Nothing has ended, everything continues.
LONG LIVE ANARCHY
Conspiracy of Cells of Fire / FAI
(via Athens IMC, translated by Insurrection News)