"...it's not the training to be mean but the training to be kind that is used to keep us leashed best." ~ Black Dog Red

"In case you haven't recognized the trend: it proceeds action, dissent, speech." ~ davidly, on how wars get done

"...What sort of meager, unerotic existence must a man live to find himself moved to such ecstatic heights by the mundane sniping of a congressional budget fight. The fate of human existence does not hang in the balance. The gods are not arrayed on either side. Poseiden, earth-shaker, has regrettably set his sights on the poor fishermen of northern Japan and not on Washington, D.C. where his ire might do some good--I can think of no better spot for a little wetland reclamation project, if you know what I mean. The fight is neither revolution nor apocalypse; it is hardly even a fight. A lot of apparatchiks are moving a lot of phony numbers with more zeros than a century of soccer scores around, weaving a brittle chrysalis around a gross worm that, some time hence, will emerge, untransformed, still a worm." ~ IOZ

Feb 29, 2012

The dead have no victories and the hangman is a friend.

The dead have no victories. The dead do not triumph: not in war, not in resistance, not in peace, not in memory.

First, our memories are lies. Memory is, itself, the first ground of deception. Think of all the times you were wrong about what you remember. You saw a red shirt in your mind, draped over the frame of a friend, cast in the light of a treasured recollection. You know it to be true. You remember it. And then, maybe only days later, you hold a photo in your hand. In it, she wears green.

Or - in the passing of breath and conversation, each person captured in the amber of her own memory retells a shared experience, differently. The details emerge, and they do not agree.

How memory flatters, or torments, or tempts us to believe what we cannot verify.

Second, our memories are truths. They are the truth not of fact, but of our faith in tomorrows. This isn't a fault. Only a fool would lay blame, here. We are formed by others, by pains and pleasures, by fears and desires, many years before memory bubbles up and percolates into the illusions of self. We are made long before we become makers. The self, caged as it is always in memory's prison, is first and last a tall tale. A story. We suffer this disorder. We revel in it. It defines even our boredom. The range of possibilities, the shapes of selfhood, cannot be cataloged. Self varies, with mood, with digestion, with shitting and farting and sleep; but character, that vicious slaver, conceals this variance in the habits of obedience and belief. We are never constant. But memory, and its capo, character, would have their prisoner believe otherwise. They trick awareness into breaking with its senses, inventing a self who lasts. The experience of self is the story of an escape which will never happen. It is the flight into an ever receding tomorrow. Like other lies - history, religion, law.

The living victors would have us believe otherwise, of course. They would have us believe in our selves to the point of obsession, cultivating a society wide disorder of the single personality. A plague, an affliction, and thing which has no age, and is always aging.

Epoch and place vary, and our million million selves come and go. Most of us know nothing of the soil beneath our feet, the lifetime of an ant or worm, or the history of a square foot of air. We know nothing, and that leaves us free to observe. That could be enough, but it's not. A people without the curse of character and obedience - how do you rule them? How do you raise a child into a boy into a man who will congratulate himself as he takes a voluntary step towards his own planned participation in the mass execution of war?  How do you thwart a child into being a girl into becoming a woman who knows by twenty that she has a place, and a thousand reasons to trust her fears, and a hundred times as many shapes she should never, ever be?

How do rule? You deny. You forbid. And then you punish. After punishment, not being punished is as good as a reward. It works on those who are clever or stupid enough to avoid the whip. It works, eventually, on the whipped themselves.

And in being ruled in the petty tyrannies of family, in the school house and the workplace, we are shaped into singular and collective acts of deception; into pack animals with a faith in the tomorrow told tales of our invented pasts.

The human is inconstancy and inconsistency. Our obedience is not. Obedience follows the infliction of harm upon memory, until memory lies and its invention, the self, believes it.

The cults of the sacrificed dead are not inconstant. They are firm faiths, clear in doctrine, deliberate in worship, unflinching in punishment, generous in the promise of reward. Consistency is their hallmark. It is their brand mark, as well.

The dead lose everything. They lose even the scars burned into memory. They become, instead, glyphs and cyphers for the living. And the living victors make use.

The living victors - you know them because victory habituates them to the giving of orders and the taking of spoils, because they rule you in small and large ways - enshrine the dead: as reminders, as testaments to their control of shared memory, as icons for adoration and obstructions to liberation.

It isn't nothing that across time and place, spanning the palimpsest sprawl of history's scribbles, those who rule depend upon death, and upon the memory of the dead. Death, as defeat. Death, as surrender. Dying, as the fearful passage into oblivion. Oblivion, as punishment, the black shrouded scourge who hounds the self into its final corner.

The body dies, and for the foreseeable future, all bodies perish. But death also kills the fiction, the self-affliction. And in that awareness, a liberation which is neither flight nor the maddened rush into the walls of our cages. This single personality, this cultivated disorder, this colonization of the accident of memory which believes, and obeys, and marches off to war, and tortures itself into clothing, and approved shapes, and behaviors - it can die at any time, and the body can go on living, aware, enjoying, suffering and shitting and fucking and getting through the day and into tomorrow.

And then, well, the living have no victories. And those who would rule will find they can only order their own twisted husks of memory around, or march off into battles with the ghosts of heroes who never were, never are, and never could be again.

That doesn't stave off dying, prevent illness, negate dread. Shrugging off the single personality disorder doesn't make the nerves immune to pain, or the heart to longing. It won't erase jealousy or any other venality which keeps us interesting. But, it's a first step among many towards a world that's not just easy for everyone, but maybe even half the time, one worth inhabiting.

And all we have to do, in our own individual moments, is walk up the gallows step, greet the hangman with a smile, slip into the noose...and leap. After that, nothing. And everything.

And the world to take back...


Tao Dao Man said...

It's up.

Devin Lenda said...

Damn good, Jack, to say the least.

Five by Five said...

An excellent essay from which I have a few questions.

"The experience of self is the story of an escape which will never happen. It is the flight into an ever receding tomorrow. Like other lies - history, religion, law."

I am unsure of what precisely you mean by "self." As you noted we experience the world uniquely, with each and every moment standing as a separate and distinct snapshot of physical reality; then our minds incorporate and mesh these snapshots into some sort of semi-coherent narrative upon which we function.

This strikes me as the way in which most humans tend to occupy this plane of existence. It is, I think, the labeling and categorizing of that process which turns it into unreality, into a fiction. Trying to fit that into some sort of easily identifiable and explainable box that makes it dangerous and subject to manipulation.

Adam Curtis, for example, has produced several trenchant criticisms of the stories with which we lie to ourselves, as a culture and individually.

"This single personality, this cultivated disorder, this colonization of the accident of memory which believes, and obeys, and marches off to war, and tortures itself into clothing, and approved shapes, and behaviors - it can die at any time, and the body can go on living, aware, enjoying, suffering and shitting and fucking and getting through the day and into tomorrow."

Forgive me for using labels here, but are you a physicalist? Again, I am just struck by what seems to me to be an accurate criticism of functional reality that finds itself resting on the same functioning reality. Physical traits like pre-conscious emotional reactions to stimulus tend to show that some element of continuity exists within a person, but I think neither idea eliminates the possibility that there is some overlay to each of our separate little tinker toy selves clattering around in this universe.

gamefaced said...

truth is so beautiful.
thank you.

Pharrell said...

so jack,

how do you feel about personal charisma?

I mean, that allure of the personality?

my bias: i feel that, rationally, what you say is correct, and yet the power of personal charisma attests precisely to the limits of our rational accounts of the "self."

Jack Crow said...


I have to confess, I had to der guegler "physicalism."

I guess, with reservations provided for not knowing what the hell I'm typing about, the word could sort of apply to how I see things.

But, you do note an significant dilemma which presents upon criticizing "reality" from the vantage of still real mind/body: it seems to undermine itself in order to tackle the lesser problem of others.

As briefly as possible, I'm only really suggesting that the notion of self as a singular persona is a Greco-Roman-Platonic-Plotinian-Christian conceit. It takes the "mask" of the "person" from Hellenic theater and transforms it into a complete identification with all the unspoken organs, processes, colony cells and chemical reactions which occur within the arbitrary and essential boundary of the skin.

And I think that's a inaccurate snapshot of what it means to be a human organism.

Since I reject entirely the notions of spirit, soul, consciousness (as being), being, atman, Self, immanence from without and transcendence, I think my own anarchist model of self is sort of an organic muddle of desires, needs, memories, urges, reactions and feedbacks which, because we have awareness, suggest a notion of a passive watcher which is nonetheless not really there. It's all epiphenomena.

Hope that helps. Probably doesn't, because I'm typing at speed on the way to heading out again to do grocery shopping.

Jack Crow said...


I think charisma is observable. I just don't think it necessarily flows forward from a coherent Self-as-demonstrable-object.

When I was younger, I was often called "charismatic." It got me promoted a lot, in lieu of the possession of real skills or talents.

What that "charisma" amounted to, I believe, is really just an amalgamation of predatory instincts, a willingness to appear and seem, a honed sense for weaknesses and insecurities in others, and a desire to take advantage in order to avoid being victimized.

Charismatic people, it is my experience, cut across all classes, castes, the multitude of gender combinations, race and personality types. But they do seem to have a similarity in early childhood conditioning in common: they are, I think, the abused who develop self-as-glamour as a defense mechanism.

And that ties into the fortified, armored and illusory self I mention above - I really think it is the product of pain, suffering, abuse, thwarting, discipline and moral reinforcements of the same. It's an artifact.

The old saw is that pain liberates and ennobles. I don't believe that. It does build character, but character is a prison. It also makes a human organism into a self-focuses person. Because a person with pain and memories of pain thinks of his self, his flesh-as-self, and his future as flesh-which-suffers.

Jack Crow said...

gamefaced, Devin, RZ,


Pharrell said...


That's a fascinating account of charisma, and is persuasive, to some extent, I think. Thanks.

alltheyoungdudes said...


You will find this essay interesting. It hits on many of the same themes at you do.


Jack Crow said...


Hope to check it out after work today. Gratis.

Five by Five said...

Your two comments were quite enlightening additions to the essay and am glad they were prompted.

I do disagree with this "suggest a notion of a passive watcher which is nonetheless not really there. It's all epiphenomena" but that is, in the end, a qualia-type of 'how many anarcho-capitalists can dance on the head of a pin' argument.