Welcome to the flipside of false ignorance.
Five years ago, a little burned out
(temporarily, I knew even at the time) from NGO human rights work and laid up
in pain from carpal tunnel, I started an occasional design project called
falseignorance.info. It came from an intense, desperately driven need to say
something more articulate and complicated about the realities of empire and the
possibilities of resistance.
The first thing I laid out, testing my brand new voice dictation machine and
working with pageMaker until my fingers burned, was a little pamphlet called
"Do you think about torture?" I do. Think about it. I witnessed it quite up
close and personal once, in a jail in Cincinnati, where someone was slammed to
the ground and repeatedly tasered in front of me. And it has becoming an ever
more overt policy. So I wanted to let other people know that there's a mass of
us, thinking, and (this is the point of "false ignorance"), a perhaps larger
mass knowing but doing their best not to think, but actually not-thinking. That
is pouring energy into a tangible denial of what they know is being done in
their name, or with their money, or with the need of their acceptance. So one
face of the project was to break the silence about open secrets.
Another was to find human ways to relate to realities of empire. And yet a
third was to remind everyone that resistance is not only possible, but
brilliantly possible, vibrant, and always boiling beneath the surface when it
isn't shattering what we believe (or is it, fear?) is inevitable.
Five years on, I no longer think denial is so much of the problem. Though I
do think that reminders of how some truly scary efforts are deliberately
planned are essential. And of course neither the media nor the grapevine tell
us everything. Well documented truths are essential for outrage, for activism,
Why I'm starting to blog...
Everyone I meet is more in the turmoil between hope and despair than
struggling to move from ignorance to knowledge. Two nights ago at a beautiful
warehouse party full of fire and creativity, a 46-year-old metal sculptor came
up to me. And said he had seen me around the activist spaces and events of the
Bay. And thanked me for being out there. And said what I've heard too many
times, that he is living out a sense of despair about the situation of the
world. That the U.S. now is something like his long term nightmare.
Fair enough. My nightmare is the return of colonialism ("Something old and
awful" is making a return to public consciousness, and the risk of public
acceptance, I wrote in my Ransom Note for action to resist the Iraq War). It's
now our neighbors and nieces and nephews, and lovers and high school friends
who are driving the tanks down the middle of occupied streets, seeing kids
throw stones at them, raiding houses and shooting up families. We're
doing it. "And we don't even scream. Are we dead?" (I hear the lines from Jean
Genet's _The Maids_)
My Iranian-American boss at my old Bay Area job asked last night where is
the anger. I've heard that a lot too. You can see in the last paragraph, I
think it sometimes. But I have a different relationship to that question than
most. I don't think it's a matter of things affecting us more directly, or of
the gradualness or the slowness of the change. I don't think Americans are just
mesmerized by the media, or that some analogy about raising the temperature of
a lobster pot can explain a so-called acquiescence. I think people know what is
done in their name, and I think a hundred million regrets and sadnesses are
felt about it every night.
I think the swing point is the capacity for hope, for planning, and
envisioning change. For seeing how to impact and transform the world, to bring
an end to the disaster-dream that is global empire. We need to get good at
hope, which means we need to get good at resisting.
Fortunately, humanity is fairly well quaking with both right now.
People in their numbers, in their violence-defying brilliance, in their
relentless persistence in finding ways to survive and thrive in ways that are
worthy of us, are doing many fascinating things. I've made it my day job to
witness and describe how that happens. I've been back in school for 10 months
now, getting a PhD as a means to study social movements, autonomy and the
capacity for disrupting power and empire.
Last night, and the night before, I was asked the same sincere questions by
people with open hearts. Questions I feel sure I know how to answer for myself.
Why should we have hope? What are our options for getting out of this imperial
madness? Are the rest of the folks out there asking the same things? Answering
these is about claiming the offensive, about apprenticing ourselves to the
portions of humanity that inspire us, about learning how to make ourselves into
collectives with the capacity of writing our own futures. Understanding empire,
and understanding oppressive power is the defensive work. What you don't
understand you can't change. What you don't see, don't perceive as part of the
problem can make sure the disaster comes back. Yet this defensive knowledge
must be balanced with the offensive knowledge of hope if it is to be something
other than an way of intimidating ourselves into inaction and despair.
You'll hear some of both sides here, because, well, our sibling humans are
being wounded and killed, because our planet is under seige at the moment. But
if this becomes a space you dread to read, let me know, because that means I'm
doing something wrong.