I grew up a very antagonistic little shithead. Like, I fucking hated country music because my dad liked it, I hated baseball because my brother played it, I hated police because everybody seemed to like them — except my peers, I just hated everything; I was an angry little bastard and I thought I was cool and punk rock for being disgruntled and disillusioned. Upon reflecting on my younger years, because I’m older now and that’s what we do when we start to see the end of the road from where we’re sitting, I’ve come to realize that I hated everything and I didn’t really have a reason. I mean, obviously material conditions and the fact that poverty and puberty often conspire to create miserable bastards, and the emotional bullshit I developed didn’t really help anything; but all of my anger was really one-dimensional, and I held onto it for far too long without every really interrogating it. I grew up with a lot of other antagonistic bastards, too, vandalism for the sake of vandalism and public nuisancery and all the shit we thought we were supposed to do from watching movies and shows with punks in them. Nobody from my childhood is doing great, and we’re all in our thirties and forties, the time when you’re supposed to start really reaping the rewards of hard work and shit, but that’s beside the point I’m trying to make. Or is it?
I don’t have much of a social life now, but the few people I keep up with, and the majority of the people I engage with through the course of my days, are still pretty antagonistic, though it’s less affronting, more insidious even. Until about a year ago I worked with a bunch of libertarian type dudes. I was in the process of rediscovering my own beliefs, and I wasn’t too confident about where I stood on many on the details, but I did know broadly that I was rockin with Kropotkin, and there was a lot of shit they said and did that I just found fucking hilarious. There were also some things they said and did that I found distasteful, disgusting even, and once or twice even terrifying. These dudes are all antagonistic mother fuckers, too, some of them were even into the same shit I was into. On the surface we all should’ve got along just fine! And, honestly, we did get along. There weren’t ever any horrible things I had to deal with, eventually it just got too exhausting to maintain and I dropped off the face of the planet.
It’s cool to be antagonistic. Isn’t it? Like, girls like bad boys with gnarly scars and drug problems, boys like the Sandy from the end of Grease more than Sandy from the beginning, skateboarders like Thrasher magazine more than Transworld because Thrasher is edgy, internet nerds like Foucault and Bataille because they’re so transgressive, Megadeth is objectively cooler than Metallica because James and Lars are weenies, and on and on, I mean, blood, shit, and sex, am I right? Yeah, it’s cool to be antagonistic, that’s why I’m so fuckin cool.
Society keeps telling us it’s totally fuckin cool to be, essentially, an asshole. Viral marketing campaigns abound that speak to our sense of individuality and revolutionary ideas and personal achievement and cosmic uniqueness, but they all sell the exact same thing! Shit, yesterday I got in the absolute strangest argument I’ve ever had on Reddit, over fucking clothing brands! Some dude had the time and the desire to type out paragraphs and paragraphs detailing how cucked I was and how awesome and gnarly X brand is and all this absurd shit, and all I could do was wonder who was this concerned with brands! I felt bad. But, it’s all we have, our brands, the things we consume, they signify to the world that we are here and we are valuable and we are authentic; and antagonism toward the status quo is often a key feature in the marketing of our products.
Those libertarian dudes I used to work with, and the punk rock kids I grew up with, and so many other people, all go through their daily lives aware of how fucked everything is; they are angry, they are dissatisfied, they are in need, and they all express it, generally, by adopting some type of individualist stance — antagonistic to the rules and norms of society, either by thinking tenants should be responsible for the integrity of their rented dwellings or by setting public trash cans on fire or by fanatically devoting themselves to Apple or Samsung or Disney. Those “libertarian” dudes I worked with thought the best way to “fix” society would be to have everyone become self-employed and to enforce social contracts with literal, legal contracts, nevermind the issue of enforcement, oh, they also thought immigrants were stealing jobs and children and that women shouldn’t be allowed to work and lots of other strange things that precluded them from being actual libertarians, but whatever. Many of the punks I grew up with didn’t think about politics or the economy, they didn’t think they had a reason to, they thought they’d either figure it out someday far into the future or die before it mattered. Most of the people I interact with are deeply dissatisfied with their lives, but don’t really know what to do, and don’t think there’s really even anything we could do; and boy I sure do wish there was a way to harness that energy and turn it into political action, when we’re all just miserable but we don’t do anything about it things necessarily become much, much worse, that energy becomes anti-political, anti-public, energy used by Capital to turn the whole planet into paperclips (yes, capitalism is The Great Attractor, or that unstoppable, inhuman AI all those whiny nerds warned us about).
I was vegan for a while. I gave it up after my wife was murdered and I was stuck trying to figure out how to work and raise five kids and not kill myself all on my own. I aim to get back to it, when my life is a bit more stable and I can invest the energy into maintaining the lifestyle, because I really do agree with that, and I really was much more healthy when I was eating right and exercising and giving a shit about my health. I know a lot of people who’ve had bad experiences with vegans. I’ve had some bad experiences with them myself! Most of the vegans I’ve known in my life have been bougie fuckhats who treat everyone like they’re inherently superior, their Kung Fu is stronger than anybody else’s Kung Fu because be the change you want to see in the world, and yay, Praxis! When I gave up on it, amid tremendous pressure, my vegan friends shamed and shunned me for not caring enough about my children to maintain a diet that took considerable time and effort. Vegans suck, they do shit like this, and act like buying fair trade pineapples from Amazon-owned Whole Foods and having smelly urine is revolutionary. But, I get it, they know shit is fucked, they know their physical and psychological needs aren’t being met and never will be met unless they shake things up, they know they need to do something more than just work and sleep and shit and die; and they’ve latched, for any number of myriad reasons, onto eating plants.
American “libertarians” are just as disgruntled and disempowered as the rest of us, don’t let them trick you into thinking they’re any different from you or me, and they’ve latched onto, for one of only a very few reasons, a strange proto-solipsism, and age-of-consent reform. But again, I can forgive these guys (not for the kid shit though) because I get it. They fell hard for the lie of meritocracy and bootstraps bullshit, and in the absence of anything meaningful they revert to the fairy stories they grew up on. All of us young punks thought Corey Feldmanesque obstreperousness was revolutionary, we sat on the sidelines and watched, or even worse contributed to, the crumbling of our communities and institutions, we thought that pissing on payphones and burglarizing houses in gated communities was all we should’ve been doing. Everybody finds something, some way to express all the internalized antagonism; brand loyalty or quirky hobbies or getting really into WWII propaganda posters or whatever the fuck you do to get away from your shitty boss or your annoying, liberal in-laws or those damn kids or them or whatever you blame your problems on; and none of us ever think to organize with our fellow humans and do something about it, none of us save those at the extremes and the fringes. We all feel like we’re in this shit for ourselves, beset on all sides by hostile agents, even our families become sources of anxiety and hostility, and we all find some way to deal with that antagonism, channel it into something else, and we become apathetic toward external struggles in an effort to maintain something of what we think we’re supposed to be.
Amazon facilities in New York are some of the many employers newly going through the pull-and-push of efforts to unionize. The people who got, and are keeping, that ball rolling are newbies to the union game, and they’ve done a fantastic job. The last real job I had sucked l. My boss was a tl genuinely bad person, he took advantage of us and manipulated us all into putting his needs before our own and those of our families, and he did it all with a smile on his face like some sociopathic demon hell bent for a leather made of dollar bills and workers’ tears. While I was there I went ahead and did the things I was supposed to like a good little boy and got myself promoted into management. One of our branches tried to unionize and I was one of the guys they called on to squash the effort. It shook me a bit. They wanted me to travel to Vegas and stay in a nice hotel for a month and help the guys on the ground there see the errors of their ways. Now, I’ve never been in a union, and at that time the only thing I knew about unions was Jimmy Hoffa and something vague about a market where they sold hay; I had grown up and given up on all my idealistic ideas of revolution and emancipation and bought into the ideology of individual, antagonistic struggle and outward apathy. Sure, I was into progressive shit, gay marriage and decriminalization and the fucking of the police and all that, but when it came down to it at the end of the day it was every human form themselves.
I didn’t go to Vegas to bust the union, and I quit that job not long after so I could go take pictures of people and things I hated and work for a “libertarian” influencer, but just finding myself in the position to do so really made me question the assumptions that had got me through on a daily basis. Listening to Chris Smalls and the folks from the Amazon Labor Union and the Congress of Essential Workers makes me feel like shit about myself, but also happy that they’re making an impact. These people are young, hardworking, and dedicated to changing their world rather than just saying ‘fuck it’ and getting really into painting miniatures and listening to the Joe Rogan podcast. We need more of these people, we need more workers willing to fight for something bigger than themselves, we need more political action and more actual praxis and more evidence that this whole leftist shit isn’t just a fantasy; and less arguments online carried out by lazy shitheads over who’s the most based and whether or not Trotsky would’ve been friends with Rachael Dolezal, or whatever the fuck it is we get up to online. We need more education, more calls to direct action and more solution-oriented socialists, we need to teach each other and those coming up behind us about things they can do that will actually change something. Too many mother fuckers treat this leftist shit like a quirky hobby or a brand or a fucking hairstyle.
Look, I’m not saying joining a union, or even just agitating at work, will solve all our problems. I’m not saying it’ll solve any of them really. I am saying, however, that it’s a lot more effective than spending all your free time role playing as a Stalinist on the internet and I wish I had the presence of mind to organize when I was in the position to do so. It’s hard enough as it is to break through the distractions and spectacles people occupy themselves with, making it harder by getting carried away with fake internet bullshit makes it even more impossible. Spend a little less time acting like you’re doing something, and actually go do something.
As always, thank you for spending some of your time with me! Don’t have much else to say, see you on the next one!