Friday, October 28, 2011

Occupy Everything: Let's Stay Here 'Till it Sucks

One of the poignant hilarities of Burning Man this year was Ted's realization that most people live their lives according to a passive principle we now call "Let's Stay Here 'Till it Sucks." At Burning Man, when things are not sucking, they tend to be AMAZING, so the principle works the opposite way it works in the default world. In other words, Let's Stay Here 'Till it Sucks means "This is great! I love it! I want to do it for a while longer!" at Burning Man, but in the rest of the world it often means "I don't hate this, so let's keep going until I do."

The state of not-really-hating your life is what many Americans have mistaken for being happy with their lives. I think about this more and more often at Occupy, but also often in conversations with people about sex, sex work, the law, literature, art, traveling, and love, which are all political conversations to me, even if they don't seem that way to others. (Every day I talk about these things. This is one major way in which my life does not suck at all.) The point is, people stay in relationships that seem okay, because they aren't obviously abusive and everyone around them isn't objecting. They stay in jobs that aren't obviously soul-crushing or patently destructive to the world in an immediate sense. They eat food that seems alright because it was marketed to them in a relatively legible way. They have sex that has worked for them in the past, and even when it seems less and less sexy, they accept that as a kind of normal decline, and that's ok too.

And they don't notice that things have really started to suck.

Laura Kipnis wrote a book called "Against Love" in which she argues that this is why people cheat on each other: not because they are basically hard-wired to be nonmonogamous (although she believes that too) but because you don't really understand how bored or uninspired you are until BLAM! someone comes along and kick-starts your sexy hormones and ALL YOU WANT IN THE WORLD is to feel that good. It's the same argument for any drug, including the ones I like best: sugar and compliments. You seem alright, but then, something comes into your body or your peripheral vision, and it seems so much better, and you are faced with the choice to run after it and risk your life as it was, or ignore it, and risk your life as it was.

And this is why Occupy is so beautiful, even as the Los Angeles General Assemblies implode and the listerve gets cranky and the sleepless activists start hating each other for drum circles or pot smoking. It's still a group of people who looked at their toaster pastries and their bank statements one morning and thought, "This really sucks. This sucks BECAUSE it is supposed to seem as though it doesn't."

Our banks are supposed to seem like they are ok. Obama is supposed to seem ok. The WARS are supposed to seem ok. It's all supposed to seem inevitable and normal and even "natural," and people talk about "human nature" when the cops tear gas a crowd of incredibly dedicated, motivated people in Oakland. I say, bullshit. We stayed here (American status quo) long enough, everyone. It sucks now.

Our main-stream movies mostly suck. Most of our food sucks. Our constant self-congratulatory rhetoric about how powerful we are sucks. Women still make 74 cents on the dollar despite the fact that they are graduating from college at a rate of almost 2-1, which means some percentage of men are not only doing worse in school, others are clinging to their positions of power and not helping anyone. We put nearly 25% of our black men in prison and then pretend it's their fault they are under-employed.

It's not that I believe griping does much. But I do still hear complaints from those outside the Occupy movement about how we don't seem to know what we want. We do. We would like to see people starting to care about how much life in America sucks for a huge percentage of its population. Even that would be enough. Just that would change the tide of our media, would fundamentally transform us from a pseudo optimistic populace of people who have grown used to being lied to into a crowd of getting-educated voices attempting to redress grievances and understand each other.

And so if one thinks of every space as a place to Occupy, which means a space in which to think very carefully about what could be BETTER here, the whole zeitgeist will change. The philosophy of acceptance of things that don't seem to suck will give way to a philosophy of constant visionary attempts at change for the better. Do you know who already does this? Kids. Watch them. They are never satisfied with things that are simply acceptable. And this is the message of the Occupy movement that keeps getting drowned: we want things to be better, and that is a risky position we are willing to live in, and willing to make sacrifices for, and willing to defend against the inertia of a country that has been basically exhausted and worried and just trying to get somewhere that doesn't suck for so many years it doesn't seem to know how to run after the sexy, the bright, the unfamiliarly beautiful.

The major tactic to use against the Occupiers, which is happening right now in Oakland, SF, NYC, and DC, is to make life suck there. Hurt them with tear gas, rubber bullets, and make them feel hopeless about their power. It's a more direct way of making people unhappy than the many years of consumer culture that make them numb. And this is why the whole thing is so important: the serious attempt being made to shed the years of voiceless, numb, nonparticipatory isolation that makes the middle and lower classes despairingly unable to change their government.

Living this way has made me extremely sensitive--if I wasn't already. I'm crying while riding the bus to school, I'm begging people in class to think about the life-and-death consequences of their beliefs and actions, I'm groaning and laughing and feeling overwhelmed and getting hurt all the time and getting in fights and inappropriately ruining "nice" conversations and feeling more urgency to everything. When there are moments of tenderness or rest, I'm sinking into them recklessly. I got sick last week and still all this was happening. Because it's always happening. I just caught the train this time.

1 comment:

  1. Here's to living within the risk, comrade. After we'd been gassed twice in Oakland on Tues. night, I heard a black guy next to me scream at the riot police, "Hey can I get some more of that tear gas stuff?! That's some good shit!"