|An Interview with Hakim
Bey (24 March)
Hakim Bey: ...automobiles used to look quite beautiful, some of them. Now, even the cars of the very rich – you can hardly tell them from the cars of the bourgeoisie. They’re all the same boring, puffy-looking cars: No flare, no aerodynamics, no daring art deco. What is a modern “Bugatti”? It’s nothing. Even the Arab sheiks don’t dare to have beautiful cars like before. Why? Nobody knows how to make them? What’s the big deal?
Of course, it’s all just cars. It’s all just disgusting shit, but within that bad technology, which started so nice…
Sasha Miltsov: It’s just getting worse and worse.
SM: Nowadays, they do “retromobiles”. They take a “Chrysler” like it used to be 50-60 years ago and rebuild it with all the modern gadgets. It looks even more repulsive.
HB: It’s just post-modernism. It’s not good or new design.
SM: What still amazes me in America, even though I’ve lived in Canada for 5 years, is this tremendous amount of cars everywhere. Public transportation is basically dead. And, as we know, it has been maliciously removed.
HB: It is true. It’s absolutely true. I don’t own a car – it’s not because I am so virtuous but rather because of circumstances. But I’m glad I don’t own a car – many times when I think about that – it’s horrible. At least I’m not adding to that particular misery. But if I didn’t go into other people’s cars – I would never get anywhere, except on a few rare bus stops.
SM: Since we’re talking about cars, what do you think about the projected “World Oil Peak”? It’s not a big secret that there is no real substitute for oil to run the existing gigantic world-industry. There’s a countless list of things running on and demanding oil; cars, of course, are on the top. So what do you think about oil depletion and all that?
HB: What a lot of people would say, primarily the “techno-optimists”, is that when the oil runs out – the other technologies will become economically feasible. So, they will have to run all the cars on hydrogen, or salad oil, or sunshine. But we will still have cars. It’s a horrible thought but they may be right. They may solve the problem.
SM: But most probably it’s not going to happen that way. There are no real alternatives. There’s not enough sunshine to power all these cars, there’s not enough salad oil – I mean you need to grow crops to get it - a lot of it! And almost all the good land is already in use. It has been paved over by these gigantic roads – you have Eisenhower Interstate Highway system here. And the so-called "hydrogen economy" is a myth, of course.
HB: That’s right. I’m just saying that we ought to think about all this from the “techno-fix” point of view. So far, they’ve always come up with something. History leads us to believe that they’ll figure something out. At least, we have to take it into consideration. After all, they have all the money in the world to spend on the most brilliant scientists and technologists.
But it seems that they’re not preparing. And that’s the interesting part. They’re acting as if there’s no tomorrow: they don’t think like American Indians or the Chinese for seven generations – they think for seven minutes. If you’re lucky – 15 minutes! That makes you think that there won’t be any smooth transition, brokered by the usual technological and capitalistic bla-bla. And maybe some crisis will occur, some fracture in this happy story. Should we hope for that or should we be incredibly afraid because of that? It’s hard to say. Anything short of the complete breakdown of civilization – nothing is working anymore – it’s going to be war, plague, horrible. Or can you still believe in a situation where the proponents of “the alternatives” have seized power in time to prevent it from happening? Can we really talk about “seizing power” in a context like that?
SM: Well, yes and no. “Power” is so obscure these days. I mean, “seizing” what? A TV or a radio-station?
HB: Yes, and you can have 2 billion dollars and think that you can change the world, and there’s nothing, no effect at all. Nothing seems to work.
SM: There is a popular and rather naïve belief that when the whole system, the Spectacle, will start to run out of energy – oil, gas and other resources – it will gradually loosen its grip on people’s minds and throats. The Media may still be there, the Capital will be there but they will be weak and disintegrated, and so society will inevitably break down into small autonomous collectives, not controlled by the outside world.
HB: Well, the attitudes are changing but the problem is – and now I can speak about the situation here locally - since I have been living here for 6-7 years, I have some insights – and that is that these attitudes are informed by reformism. They are not informed by a critique of capitalism or even of technology. The Green Party is a good example; basically, it’s a hobby group for losers. Here, by strange circumstances, we have a Green Party village government. I am still glad for that, I guess, but so far they haven’t accomplished anything here, except for some symbolic stuff. And the reason for this, I think, is that people of this reformist tendency are not really interested in building real alternative institutions.
For example, this movement is not taking place through labor unions, or food-cooperatives, or producers-cooperatives; it’s not taking place through free schools or alternative schools. It’s not taking place through autonomous action!
Look at the organic food situation: the big companies have already discovered that the organic food is a market and they’re in it, they’re marketing it. And for most of the consumers of organic food this is not a political issue. It’s a health issue. So they don’t care; if Monsanto is going to sell them health food – they’ll buy it from Monsanto. In other words, these nice impulses, these changing attitudes - some of which are forced on people by economic difficulties, as you pointed out, and some of which are voluntary, assumed out of a lifestyle or even out of consumerist attitude towards the “authentic” and the “organic” and the “alternative”, which after all is a market - it all runs into the sand, all the energy runs into the sand.
People with wonderful attitudes and desires that are good desires; but since there is no comprehensive movement, there’s nothing other than these “positive attitudes” and there’s no way to focus them.
I went to a Peace March yesterday – it was the anniversary of the beginning of the war in Iraq. I swear it was like being back in the 60s again: same clothes, same slogans:
“- What do we want?
- When do we want it?
We’ve been saying this for 40 years and we still haven’t realized that symbolic action and symbolic discourse is NOT Action!
And this is even better: there was a counter-demonstration, and the anti-demonstrators were yelling at us that we were communists! This is like a civil war reenactment; it’s like people in medieval costumes pretending to be knights and ladies. Totally bizarre. I haven’t been going to demonstrations lately, so I thought maybe a few things have changed. But no! It’s just “a blast from the past” - for everybody, including the fascists who thought that they were still living in 1979. Very strange.
And this is it! You go, you have a march, you say: “Not in my name!” And then you go home and watch TV. You don’t then go out and start an alternative institution: a church, a farm, a commune…
SM: A pleasure club.
HB: Or even a pleasure club! Instead, they just go home and watch TV.
SM: And then they go to work and get their salaries from the same people who are waging the war. And the taxes go to war, of course.
HB: Exactly! And of course, you NEED your SUV; you NEED your cellular phone. These are real needs. So all these so-called “green people” around here are sucking up gasoline and cement… Just “not in my backyard” – that’s what they say. They are not going to swear off using cement. They will say: “Move the cement plant to Mexico”. I can’t participate in this pseudo-politics; there is no entry-point for me here.
SM: Back to the “Peace March”: the Iraq war looks like it is going to last long. We don’t really know what’s happening there; there are all sorts of media, mainstream and alternative, producing all sorts of “news” and speculations. But who in his or her sane mind will trust them? They are the media after all. The notion I have is that it’s going to be a big, long and ugly war for the last remnants of oil and for the control of the Gulf region. What do you think?
HB: I think you’re right or you might as well be right. We might as well plan on what you’ve just said; because it would be foolish to think that they’re going to stop just because we don’t like it. They’ve already proved that it’s not going to happen.
Let me try to be an “anti-pessimist” here and point out that if you are right, and I think you are, this will also involve a continuation of this unbelievable deficit spending and going into debt that we are practicing here in the US, both on the personal and the national level. And it must eventually lead to an economic collapse, as far as I can see. For one thing, Europe is going to be driven a little bit further to the left by anti-americanism, so you will get more things like the mayor of Paris or the Spanish government happening - kind of nostalgic social-democratic, but still no longer interested in playing the global game with America as the sole superpower.
In fact, the whole ten years of globalism and neo-liberalism are already over. We are at a new stage now. That is why the anti-globalist movement suddenly seems so dead and irrelevant.
Going further with the scenario: A couple of other major things can happen, like China shifting its economic activities from the dollar to the euro and OPEC is, of course, practically out, and so forth.
So America is isolated economically: we don’t produce anything here anymore – we can’t be self-sufficient in terms of industry. We don’t make shoes here; we don’t make umbrellas, pencils. We make entertainment and information. We don’t even make the fucking computers! We produce the ideas that occupy the computers. That’s why artists are so important right now – it’s one of the few things that we actually produce. So the arts are hot, some artists are successful – this whole area around here is full of artists, and they drove the real-estate prices up. So, now you can’t move into this county for less then 250,000 dollars. Thanks to the artists! You wonder why people get angry at artists – it’s not our fault – we’re just looking for low rent but the real-estate developers are following us, sniffing our butts wherever we go to find out where the next beautiful cheap real-estate is going to be…
So on with the scenario: in 1984 if somebody had asked “would the Soviet Union break up”, everybody would go “ha-ha-ha” – nonsense; it will never happen! In 1984, if people asked whether the United Kingdom would break up, if Scotland would be independent again – “Oho-ho-ho! – This would be a joke!” Just 20 years ago, it would be a total joke. Well, it happened - and to Yugoslavia too. So, it could happen here. Things move so quickly. It’s possible that with the neo-liberal period already over, we’re now into something new – the American Empire, and maybe that will only last for 8 years -10 years.
That’s why recently I have taken an interest in the idea of separatism and secession. Because, I think that the only optimistic or anti-pessimistic way of reading the American future is to see the breakup of the American Empire, meaning a political breakup, just like in the USSR. And, as you know very well, this is a mixed blessing - to put it mildly. But there is one advantage to it, and that is that you get a small social unit that you can deal with – maybe, if you’re lucky.
It can very well happen in America, and people have already started to talk about it. I’m writing articles trying to push that idea. If I’m wrong – I’ll be wrong. To me it’s just a tactic, because from an anarchist point of view, secession is good because you get a smaller unit to deal with and eventually – this is straight Proudhon – you will break it down into autonomous regions, and then you confederate them in an anarcho-federalist union, completely voluntarily and based on popular democracy with revocable delegates. And as he put, it is necessary to organize for production and if necessary defense. This is an anarchist ideal, and secession could be a step towards it. As we know, it can also end up in a fascist nightmare. This is a dangerous idea, I admit, but I don’t see any other interesting political possibility for America.
SM: We’re dealing here with colossal amounts of nuclear and regular weapons. So, secession can turn out really messy and bloody. What do you think?
HB: Yes, yes. But if you look at England – Scotland has regained its independence surprisingly peacefully. If you look at USSR – there was very little bloodshed during the breakup. This was a remarkable event in human history; which is, that millions of people didn’t die in these strange political series of events. Could we possibly be hopeful? Could we be anti-pessimistic enough to think that the same thing could happen here, despite our well-known love of weapons? If you have to keep revolutionary hope alive, as Bloch, the German Marxist philosopher, said, then this is the best thing I can see at the moment. There’s no leftist movement in America, there’s no populist movement here, and the best think that could happen is that this fucking thing just breaks up. So right now I am in favor of the politics of the very worst.
I wasn’t going to vote against Bush. For one thing, I’ve never voted in my life and I didn’t want to ruin my lifetime record for something as stupid as that. I didn’t vote FOR Bush either, but I knew he was going to win whether it was legal or not. It was clear that he would win. Actually, we are very close to some kind of weird post-modern fascism here, including the Reichstag Fire and the whole fucking thing.
SM: What about all these new small European countries that are now part of the European Union? The EU is a new monster: incredibly bureaucratic, with a huge administrative apparatus. What do you think about the Union?
HB: When I used to go to Europe in the 1990’s and talk against the EU, most of the leftists and of course all the liberals couldn’t understand what I was talking about. “Why are you against the EU?” Because I’m an anarchist, goddammit! Any big government entities are bad news. You’re absolutely right.
SM: And Europe is not self-sufficient. The soil has been abused. They get oil and energy from elsewhere, and they are a significant part of this global economy utopia, exchanging their overrated currency for Chinese-made toilet-seats and other goodies.
HB: What I am saying is not a real solution – even for America. It’s just a tactic that presents itself at the moment, because so many people are disgusted and fed up with America. And so this idea seams to have some appeal. But I know that this is not a utopian solution. My point is that I don’t see - in America especially - any so called “leftist institutions” working towards a more realistic political solution. In Europe, you have the remnants of the Left: you still have some powerful unions, you have the social welfare system still, to a certain extent, surviving - in some countries better than in others, but still very good compared to America. I don’t know… I get a little envious of that – living here and knowing Europe pretty well – I have a feeling of envy that there you could be an anarchist and still have healthcare. This would be kind of nice in my old age.
But, of course, you’re quite right – living in Europe for more than a couple of years, you begin to realize that there’s a certain death in the air that accounts for this bourgeois comfort that extends even to the former working class. And a big deal has been cut and the deal stinks.
It’s all a matter of comparison: when I think how fucking awful it is in America, then the European model looks a bit better. When I think how fucking awful the European model is – then I don’t know what to think because, where is the realistic alternative? As anarchists, we have to ask ourselves what exactly are we proposing that has a realistic chance even if changing the lives of a few people, much less of whole countries or the world. And too much anarchist purism - I call it “futilitarianism” -- it’s like “Oh, we don’t want to hear about those ideas, because those ideas might work, and we prefer being right to getting anything done”. Since everyone has a totally different idea of what’s right, we spend our time fighting with each other. Here in America all the anarchists are just tearing up each other’s throats up over ideology! We claim to be post-ideological and we spend all our time bickering about ideology. “I am the pure anarchist! – No! I am the pure anarchist! – No, no, no! I am the purest anarchist!”
This is why other radical groupings are not terribly interested in anarchism. If you are Black in this country – anarchism doesn’t have much to offer you. If you’re Native American – anarchism doesn’t have much to say to you. We’ve become a very esoteric little cult, or a group of cults, since, of course, every anarchist is her or his own cult. And I’m kind of sick of that. I’d like to see some Action, even if it’s impure! Just for purely existentialist reasons; because, if you go for too long without getting revenge – it’s not good. “Workers revenge” they used to call it. Perhaps, the idea of the “worker” has to be rethought but the revenge part is still relevant.
SM: Does it have to be on local level?
HB: Whatever. Not necessarily violence, of course, in the sense, that we’ve always talked about direct action and they think that we mean violence, whereas we could as easily be talking about a food coop. So, when I say “revenge” – a food coop can be a good revenge, because we don’t have them here. We have one in the whole county.
SM: They’re more spread in Quebec.
HB: Again, this is because Canada is basically a Northern-European country with a soft-ass liberal, leftist government. “Let’s take care of everybody, let them smoke pot…” and all this. Which is much more pleasant than here, believe me!
SM: Sure, I had time to compare.
But there are sad things in Canada. They’re actually destroying this social welfare system since maybe ten years, now. Recently, they have increased the cost of university education and cut off a good deal of the bursary programmes. So, now Quebec students are on strike. Except for private schools…
HB: The strike is about money?
SM: Well, about money and about the whole ideology of education, which has shifted. Before, they believed that higher education was one of peoples’ fundamental rights. They were thinking about gradually decreasing the price for education in Quebec in the 60’s and 70’s and eventually to make it like in Northern Europe, free for all. Now they’re moving in the American direction, meaning that higher education is just another tool to be successful on the job market -- to sell yourself for a better price.
But, I don’t really think that they’re going to succeed in anything with these strikes and demonstrations. The bureaucrats and the corporate “people” will proceed with their agenda with an iron fist.
HB: True. But again, the sheer anti-americanism generated by this regime could push even Canada a little bit backwards -- lets call it “reaction” – towards that old social-democratic model. Just out of sheer disgust. I don’t know, do you think it is possible? Because you’ve been living there for some years now and I haven’t been there even to visit in a long-long time. The Canadians are not Americans – they are bewildered by all this, I know. Maybe they won’t do anything but anti-americanism alone might push them, do you think?
SM: Maybe. But there are several issues here. Anti-americanism itself has been ritualized; periodically we have these nice little demonstrations in Montreal with the burning of the American flag and all the paraphernalia that comes along. People do it once a year, twice a year: burning the flag, saying “Fuck Bush!” and “No oil for blood – no blood for oil!” and so on. This show-off is like a routine now but nothing happens after that.
And obviously, the american system of thought dominates Canada so strongly and intensely. What is Canada compared to the States? It’s a fraction - both politically and economically. Yes, many people, when asked, would say that Canadians are not Americans; but what does it mean exactly? I guess, nobody knows.
A few minutes ago you were talking about America not producing anything. It’s pretty much the same situation in Quebec – “the service society” as they call it – people selling each other services - is quite frightening. Maybe, it is even worse than in the States since, let’s say, Quebec is actively selling out its resources to the States.
HB: Which they stole from the Indians.
SM: Exactly. Ore, forest. Two years ago, I hiked with a friend in Northern Quebec. You wouldn’t believe: for days, we were walking on this lunar landscape with smashed, destroyed trees – apparently they cut only the good ones and left the rest to rot. Very sad.
HB: To tell you the truth – although I talk about separatism and so forth – I like to play political games to keep my head warm. But if I really said what I thought the proper response to all this would be – it would be total retreat.
Basically, I see this as a metaphorically military situation: we had a war in 1968 and we lost but apparently we haven’t realized it, so instead of retreating we do this ritual of repeating the prayers of the 1960’s, like I told you about this Peace March. All I can think of is to try to retreat as deeply as possible into something else.
SM: To retreat where?
HB: That is the problem, of course. It has to be a kind of an inward retreat. It has to be “space-beyond-space” retreat, and I haven’t figured that out yet. In the 60’s we called it “dropping out”. In effect, that looks to me like a good idea again. Maybe, it always did it in a way, because I’ve always been interested in communes and communitarian experiments; but now more than ever, it could take any form. It could take a camouflaged form, so that you would have dropped out but no one notices; or you could try to get a whole lot of people to go to one place so you could get some control over municipal organizations, like school boards, zoning boards. Or, you could just do the hippy commune thing in the woods. We could have some sort of new secular Anabaptist monasticism, whether communist, communalist, communitarian, or just communities.
This would involve some kind of a movement – now we’re getting into the idea of a movement, because if enough people DID this, it would start to be significant. Either it would end in violence or we would get away with it because the Empire would be collapsing. In any case, it seems to me that when you’re beaten – in the military sense – then you retreat. And if possible, you make an orderly retreat towards sources of reinforcement and logistic supply. That was what Napoleon said. Guy Debord liked to read Napoleon for his smart ideas about these things.
And when you take this metaphor from the military level to the social level, it seems to me that something like that can be done. First of all, of course, on the individual level and if it becomes popular, eventually it becomes an organized retreat. As the old saying goes: “He who fights and runs away – lives to fight another day.”
SM: People will still be in the United States?
HB: Yeah! It might be done through secession – you stay in the same place but change the politics. This is a kind of escape. Or whatever, as Malcolm said: “By whatever means necessary.”
SM: What do you think about more and more people home-schooling their children?
HB: It is of course politically unfortunate – there should be free schools; but if I had children I would do it. I wouldn’t even think of inflicting modern education on my own children! And people should try to homeschool in the groups. This is the only thing you can do, since the alternative/free school movement was smashed in the late 70’s.
SM: What exactly do you mean by “free-schools”?
HB: Well, anarchist schools. We used to have them - strange how everyone has forgotten. It was a strong movement in America in the late 70’s. It was one of those things that happened in the 70’s that was a logical extension of the 60’s. I sometimes think that the 60’s actually lasted from about 1962 to 1972 and then the 70’s were brief; they only lasted until 1978. But they were a logical extension of the 60’s. And one of the important things was the institution building. People were quite serious about it: food coops and schools, in particular; because those were peaceful things – you could get away with them. But they changed the laws and changed the capitalist strategies in order to destroy those movements. And they succeeded. So, home-schooling is all there is. It’s unfortunate; it can only be done on a communitarian basis or by the elite. Most of the people who are involved in it are from the middle-class. Poor people simply don’t have the time.
That’s why I say that politically it’s unfortunate but there’s no other choice.
SM: Many people are involved in the anti-corporate movement, and sometimes they even become economically successful like this Canadian-based magazine “Adbusters” – they are now selling sneakers…
HB: I lost respect for them 10-12 years ago, when they started to publish their magazine in a sleek colored format.
SM: Yeah, horrible. Is there anything worth mentioning in the “anti-corporate” area?
HB: There is. There is an organization called “POCLAD”. I forgot what it stands for – it’s a single-issue organization - just about corporations and they’ve done valuable research on legal history and so forth. I don’t know whether they’ll have any success or not.
In Pennsylvania, there are a number of municipalities that have passed laws against corporations doing business in the municipality. Now, I don’t know whether this is some freak of Pennsylvania law or whether anybody could do this. I still haven’t found out all the details. Last I heard, there was a dozen or so towns that have done this, which suggests almost a possibility of a movement. But apparently, they are doing it through the law and I don’t know whether that’s state law or federal law. I don’t know whether it’s possible for other states to do that.
There’s also a new movie, called “The Corporation”, that seems to be having effect. It was about time something like this appeared. But, I haven’t seen it, so I don’t have any judgment about it.
Again, it’s like I said about food – the consciousness has grown, but it’s very hard to focus it when there is no movement and no leftist institutions. I use “leftist” in a broad, general sense here. We could even talk about “post-leftist”, if you want.
SM: No, I hate all these “post-” things.
HB: Yes. The problem is that any possibility of action remains atomized. There’s no chance of molecularity. And that’s what capitalism is so good at – separation! That’s what it does.
SM: Now here comes a question about the Net. You’ve been skeptical about the Internet and it’s true that Internet is like a giant zoo in which you can see everything and everyone: all these anti-corporate people, for example, are there and very active. Radicals of all kinds and flavors are “active on-line” and yet there’s very little happening outside the Net. What is the problem?
HB: The problem seems to be that the Internet is sucking away any energy that would have gone into real action but which instead goes into the “symbolic discourse” - but even more so because now you have interactivity and the “many-to-many” bullshit, so that you have the illusion of accomplishing great things: “O! We have a million hits on our peace website!” And a million people on the march!” And still nothing happens. And everybody scratches the head and says: “Well, maybe we need to get the message even wider. We need to educate the new generation.” “Education! Education!” I’m so sick of hearing about education. How many times do we have to educate these fucking fools? Don’t they ever learn?
I’m tired of information. I don’t want any more information. I have lots of information - far more than I can ever process myself in news. I would like to be able to refuse information - not get more and more, and more, and more of it; because when you’re addicted to information you never do anything with it. You don’t do anything… period! You just sit in front of your screen, interacting with various blogs, forums and websites. Great political ideas, sure, and bad ones, and everything you like and then what?
Basically, it’s just another technological fix. A new need is created by capitalism. Everybody now needs it. And so what? What’s the next chapter? The next chapter is nanotechnology or genetic manipulations and so on, and so on, and so on, ad infinitum. Obviously, what’s missing is some kind of a sharp revolutionary concept – I try to use this word in the broad, general sense removed entirely from its historical dimensions.
But without something along those lines, something has to replace the movement of the social, which is dead. Thatcher said it: “There is no alternative; there is no such thing as society.” And it looks like she was right as far as we can tell, unless you can prove her wrong.
SM: So if it’s not on the social, it should then be on the spiritual level…
HB: Well, perhaps. It occurred to me that we need something like a spiritual renewal; perhaps neo-shamanistic, obviously green, interested in Earth and sustainability, somewhat pagan, perhaps, but not without participation from the monotheistic traditions.
To tell you the truth, the intellectual tools are available in Hermeticism in Western occult tradition, which embraces Paganism and Monotheism, and which is neither a religion nor science but is both together. And, actually, nor is it an art! So we have this great western tradition, which is not tainted with power in the way that the churches are, that could absorb all the neo-shamanistic - and even the better part of the New Age tendencies - and give some kind of a focus. It could have all sorts of regional variations and it would not involve dogma because it is not a church. But again, you can’t just snap your fingers and say, “this is what everybody should do now”.
Generally speaking, I don’t find that the arts are very persuasive. It seems that people have already made up their mind and then they consume the art that reinforces their point of view. I was thinking about this yesterday on the Peace March – nobody who sees this Peace March and hears the “Peace Now!” slogans is going to change their mind about something. Maybe, if they are 11 years old. It’s always nice to think that maybe some 9 year-old kid will see the March and that changes his or her mind. But basically, this stuff is not persuasive and it’s not even what it’s all about. I asked everybody if they themselves or anybody they knew changed their mind about anything from seeing that movie, Michael Moore’s “911 Fahrenheit”, which I didn’t see. I was just curious to know. No - not one person. They all went because they knew that they would either hate it or agree with it. They didn’t change their mind as a result of seeing the movie. This is not about persuasion. It’s some kind of ritualistic reinforcement of class-values.
SM: The movie itself is just plain brainwashing, misleading in many ways: it portrays Bush as the ultimate evil and the democrats are all nice angels flying around. And it’s like another Hollywood production and a huge commercial hit, like “Titanic” – well, not that big but still. So, it’s nothing.
HB: It’s less than nothing.
SM: There are so many people deluded by this movie and other such media samples. On the Net, there are all these forums and discussion groups devoted to the film. It’s like a milestone for these guys. Horrible.
HB: Sure! I would expect especially on the Net, where it’s precisely the controversy that swirls up over some piece of media that gives people the illusion of action. After all, this is something they’re doing on their own – not at work, not at school. By today’s standards, it feels like this is action! Because… what else is there?
SM: There is another thing on a different subject: the supposedly secret Pentagon report about the climate change. It states that the major problem the US will have to deal with will be the climate change. It describes all sorts of horrors that such change will cause during the next 10-20 years, such as weather patterns in England will start resembling those of Siberia; Holland and Belgium will disappear because of a sudden rise in the water level; extraordinary, huge tornados over Florida and so on and so forth. What’s your idea about all this?
HB: Right, that’s another scenario in which the ecological catastrophy, which we all have been expecting since the 19th century, actually occurs. And then what? I’m not looking forward to it. It is not going to be the revolution or the nice downfall of civilization after which we’ll all go back to being Stone Age fairies. It’s going to be a horrible fucking mess.
I’ve recently read an interesting report about "global dimming". It seems that there are two kinds of pollution that cause climate change: one is particulate pollution: matter – little bits of matter like when a volcano blows up – and that screens the sunlight and causes cold weather on Earth. The other kind is gaseous pollution, which causes the greenhouse effect, which causes hot weather on Earth. So far, according to this article, these two effects cancel each other out. But then it occurred to me that the capitalist would say that the automobile emission is good – it is ecologically sound to burn soft coal and to have more and more automobiles, because it’s protecting us from the ozone depletion and the greenhouse effect. It’s one of those, “Do you prefer to die by fire or flood? Will the world end with a bang or a whimper? Choose one from colon A and one from colon B.”
Again, in order to stop this from happening, everyone would have to get rid of their automobiles. Today. Right now.
HB: Yesterday! Otherwise it’s too late.
SM: I’ve read that the biosphere is sort of “conservative” and so today we are dealing with the pollution from the 60’s, which was much less severe than now. But let’s say in 30 years we will have to deal with the pollution of our time, which is enormous.
And it is worth mentioning that whenever the topic of overpopulation comes up, the western people immediately start complaining about Asian and African nations with big populations. It is true that this is a big problem for these nations. But at the same time, take India as an example. Indians generally live on an extremely scarce amount of recourses. One Indian consumes maybe 30 times less than one American.
HB: Oh, even more than that!
SM: Yes, for sure there is a difference when you have two million Indians instead of one, but it’s a far greater problem for the environment when you get 2 million Americans or any other “western-minded” people with similar “aspirations”. So, the overpopulation is actually caused by people from the so-called “civilized world”.
And modern China is an interesting phenomenon. This nation, like its western counterparts, is also completely submerged in the “production-consumption” obsession, more on the “production” side, of course. So, they will sooner or later end up in a tragic situation, especially given the huge population and the lack of resources; that is, unless, they break away from this free-market delusion and the race for production, production, production for the Western world.
HB: Essentially, all these are reasons to be pessimistic, because I don’t see any solutions to them. The only way to be anti-pessimistic would be fairly existentialist: “I know what’s right. I have made this choice about what’s correct and I’m going to do it and if the world comes to an end – that’s it.” It’s like this hadith of the Prophet Mohamed: “Even if you know that the world will end tomorrow – plant a tree”, and “even if you know you’re going to live forever act as if each day was your last day.” Between these two extremes a kind of ethics appears; in fact, interestingly enough an ethics towards the environment since he chose the example of planting a tree. So, one simply does that, because of the existentialist choice to do that instead of being a stupid oppressed serf. It’ s a choice.
SM: Absolutely right…
HB: And this leads us into dangerous waters indeed; into the whole idea of “Acte Gratuite”, the “Atentat”, terrorism, assassination, ideas which have great appeal on the extreme Right. “Magical Resistance” which really has to do with the Self rather than society. And I admit, these are very dangerous waters but when all your other options have been stripped away from you – this seems to be what’s left: a feeling for one’s own self-becoming. “Try to become more like yourself”, as Nietzsche would say. Maybe, ultimately, because we are so atomized – it does break down to the individual. And these are choices that are made on the individual level. That’s all we have to go with until something better begins to emerge out of our existential despair. I always like to say: “I hope that somebody can prove me wrong”. That would be very nice.
SM: Out of curiosity, what are you working on right now?
HB: As I told you, I’m involved in this “secession movement”. That’s my political game this year. Aside from that, mostly I’m writing poetry; in part, because I want to and partly it’s political. I came to feel that when there is no Revolution, you cannot do art in service of the Revolution. Q.E.D. So, if there’s only Capital, then all art is either for Capital or it’s a failure. These are the only two choices. So, I decided to write poetry because it’s guaranteed failure. So, it’s kind of a political decision. But I also wanted to do it; I moved to the country and it made me feel more poetic.
20-25 years ago I gave up writing poetry BECAUSE it was a failure and it didn’t communicate and I started to write prose instead. The result of that was very seductive. In fact, I DID communicate, people did read it. That book is translated into 14 languages. But there I say “So what?” It didn’t change my life for the better. I got invited to a lot of conferences in Europe; some of that was pleasant but got tiresome after a while.
I thought I was doing something for a cause and then I realized that it wasn’t really for a cause but rather to entertain people. There is a kind of entertainment, which is provided by the alternative media and on a broader level by the public media, like PBS in America, where you can have almost any content you want. Here, if it’s art, then it can be any content. Capitalism has a niche for everybody including the people who are fed up with it.
SM: Yes, “Buy the latest radical product in our supermarket, order it on-line NOW!”
HB: Yeah! They have all sorts of products for you. “You hate capitalism – here, buy our “anti-capitalist kit!” We’ve got it all!” It struck me then that my apparent success, which, certainly, was never a financial success was kind of… I don’t want to say it was meaningless – but I suddenly became disillusioned with certain aspects of what I was doing.
SM: You felt that you were part of this kit...
HB: Yes, to a certain extent; to the extent that I succeed, I am in danger. I remember someone telling me about 8 years ago that the Pepsi-Cola Company had organized a rave in Europe and called it “T.A.Z.” I thought “Oh-oh, now I have to completely change my ideas and maybe change my name, AGAIN.”
And poetry is something that will never sell. No one is going to read it and that’s better for me.
SM: Do you still write as "Hakim Bey"?
HB: Yes, a little bit; if somebody asks me, but less and less for myself.
HB: I don’t understand, can you explain to me how can people live on 26 dollars a month in Russia? Apparently, there are many people like that. How is it possible? How do they do that? Are there some remnants of Communism?
SM: Well, it’s not exactly 26 dollars. But if it’s outside Moscow it can very well be 100-150 dollars a month. How do people survive? First of all, most of the people still have their apartments from the Soviet times, when they got them for free or almost for free. And so they don’t pay rent, only the utilities. The other thing that helps is the “dacha”. People are growing their own fruits and vegetables. And of course, relatives are helping each other.
In Moscow and to a certain extend in St-Petersburg it’s different, you have a few thousand of extremely rich people making money on oil, gas, retail, speculations and the overall misery. And then they have a whole community of people serving their needs: lawyers, bankers, managers, journalists, cleaners, guards, and so forth, who are rather well paid. And then you have the lackeys of the lackeys with an incredible amount of brown-nosing, of course. That’s why there’s so much hatred and envy towards Moscow. It’s utterly disgusting.
But the TV is always there to explain and entertain. People are literary glued to the “blue screens” with the never-ending police soap operas and the latest news from the world of oligarchs or the criminal series that make it look that the good brave police is hunting down the criminals out there distorting the fact that they are in fact protecting the criminals in here – that is the legal criminals who write the laws.
HB: Very much like American television.
SM: Yes, but with a special “Russian flavour”. People are completely mesmerized by TV, like rats by a flute. It could be a guy who’s practically selling his last shirt to feed himself and yet he would not miss “the latest news” murmuring about “stability” and “growth”.
HB: That’s what I was thinking earlier today. The big thing of my lifetime is television, because cars were already there when I was born but I wasn’t born into a house with television. And since then the whole world has been televisualized. There was a time when South Africa was the only country that didn’t have television – for obvious reasons, not the good reasons but the bad reasons. Now everybody has got it and that’s it, that’s the end. This is the end of human society. You can’t have television and human society, as far as I can make out. And a car, of course, completes that by making it possible for human society to physically disperse itself into nothingness. So, first you have a mental dispersion and then a physical dispersion. The car and the television - these are the two 20th century big things and that’s my lifetime. It’s the story of my life. It’s much more significant than all the wars and the killings that occurred in that lovely 20th century. If there are historians 200-300 years from now that’s what they will be talking about: these technological things.
SM: You have to be anti-pessimist enough to believe that it will last that long.
HB: J.G. Ballard wrote a whole series of books about the way the World would end. In each case there was a different ending: flood, drought, strange crystallization effect caused by some scientific mistake... In some of his work he hypothesizes that the End of the world is the eternity of what we’ve got now. He sees the entire Universe becoming a shopping mall. This is the worst apocalypse in a sense. And, like I said in the beginning of our talk, it is possible.
So, maybe there will be historians 300 years from now and they will be talking about cars and television.
SM: What do you think about the current situation in Russia?
HB: It looks to me that Russia is very much in a loser’s position still reeling from the defeat of 1989 and what’s going to happen is hard to figure out. I’ve never been to Russia myself but from all the literature I’ve read and from all the people I’ve met, and from some travel in Eastern Europe – it doesn’t look good, because Russia will never be invited to join NATO and EU. It’s going to become this strange nowhere place. What do you think?
SM: Well, it is going to be and, and in fact, it is already a place for extracting recourses for the West. In exchange for “mirrors and necklaces” which are Western brands and images. The primary goal has always been to divide and to exploit.
HB: To make it what used to be called “the Third World”, which is really incorrect, we shouldn’t use those terms anymore; because the Soviet Union was the Second World and it disappeared. Now we only have one world, the goal of globalism, and it looks like a dialectic is emerging, if you pardon the expression: the included zones against the excluded zones. It looks to me that Russia is going to end up in the excluded zone, in the dust heap of history.
I don’t know what would counter–balance this, maybe some kind of federation of former USSR republics working towards a more socialist way of being. Some people seem to be talking about this but from what I know it is impossible.
SM: What I see is that in a short time there will be further “balkanization” of Russia. It’s going to be divided into several parts. People will be put against other people on the basis of nationality and religion or by some local differences. Russian liberals or neo-liberals and nationalists are actively working together to make it happen. It is simply easier to control and exploit people and the territory that way.
HB: It’s possible to think that if the American Empire and the Chinese Empire could break up then the situation will be much easier for Russia and the former Soviet entities, because there wouldn’t be these two enormous superpowers - economic powers - in an unfair fight. In other words, if the whole world could break up into small separate countries, it would be a better chance for everybody. Perhaps we could avoid big wars, if only because these entities would be too small to dare that kind of violence. I don’t know. Now I sound like an optimist.
For me Russia is a place where I’ve never been and it’s always been totally fascinating. I know it mostly through literature, because of this unique position between the East and the West, which the Russians themselves are conscious of and comment on over and over again. And it’s true! There they are, between some kind of Asian something and some kind of European or Western something. And that tension produces, in such a short time, so much brilliant art and literature. Say, from Pushkin till now. This seems to me as something unique and fabulous.
I think that if I were Russian, I’d be very worried about the collapse of the dissident art movement after 89. This was a movement based on being against something that disappeared with a big fart and left all that art hanging in the air. It’s like pulling a rug out from underneath everybody’s feet. It was a big psychic deflation. What I would be interested in is to somehow move towards whatever will be next. Forget all that dissident stuff! Stop with the nostalgia for the days of dissidents, because that’s counterproductive. There’s dead art coming from that part. Get over it. Something’s got to be next and let’s figure out what it is. That’s the way I would imagine myself talking if I were Russian.
By the way, are there any interesting Russian writers I might not know? I mean, the contemporary ones.
SM: Sure. Yuri Mamleev is great, especially the short stories from the 70s, I would also mention Masodov, early Sorokin, and also we have many genius poets not translated into English, like Nastya Trubacheva or Vladimir Bogomyakov among others. By the way, Dugin did some beautiful poetry.
HB: Intellectually, it is interesting what he is doing. I didn’t know that he was writing poetry too.
SM: Yes, he is very interesting.
Back to the Net. What do you think about the anti-copyright movement, which is highly active on the Internet?
HB: In a sense, I call the Internet “the perfect mirror of global capital”. The same kind of breakdown of boundaries that supposedly occurs in globalism or the global economics occurs in terms of information on the Internet. That is, everything is a virus. Capital itself is viral in nature. And the Internet is its perfect manifestation. Even the fact that you can’t make any money on it also ties in with this concept. It is not the same, it’s the mirror image of Capital: everything is different, everything is backwards but it’s still a mirror image. And the result is that no matter how much you think you’re using it as a weapon against capitalism, you’re using that very structure, which is Capital! Pure and simple.
Ultimately, that’s my big problem with the Internet. It’s not even a matter of the stupid content or the other aspects of it, but the fact that, ultimately, it’s just pure Capital.
And because of this strange reversal that occurred -- strange anomalies occur such as this copyright problem. Some capitalists make their money off copyrights so they’re upset if someone breaks them. Other capitalists make more money when there’s no copyright, when everything flows freely around. But they have already worked it out because “all the customers have to be satisfied”. They can satisfy themselves on the Internet. Capitalism doesn’t even have to pay for it. They sell machines and then people use them and think that they do something independent or even critical of the capitalist economy. No. It’s just all part of the same thing.
It’s like saying that there’s something liberatory about the telephone. Well, yes, in a way; but in another way not. And the two ways cancel each other out. With telephones the lure is that I can call you in Moscow and we can talk, but that’s also the problem, because you’re in Moscow and I am here. And that’s not society that’s just communication. Communication is not the same as community.
So that’s my problem with the current Internet situation and it’s not just theory, because what I see here in America is that ALL the activity on what we call “the Left” is ALL virtual! All of it, except for a few communes here and there, a few bomb-throwers, people who destroy genetic crops. I have a lot of respect for these people even though I think that their tactics are stupid but I still respect them, because at least they’re doing something.
Everybody else is just “on-line” all the time. It’s maddening! It’s maddening! Especially, since I don’t participate in it. If I participated in it, I would soon sink into the hypnotic state that goes with it.
SM: It is the illusion that something actually happens: You’re producing some thought and people react to it.
HB: That’s right. Back in the 70s, there was a book called “Four arguments for the elimination of television” by Jerry Mander. One of his points was very subtle. The other points were quite clear but one was rather difficult to understand. And still many people don’t understand it. He said, for example, let’s imagine that you watch an hour special on PBS about some fucking Indian tribe that’s disappearing. And you go “Oh, that’s terrible!” And you feel your heart bursting out with sorrow. And then it switches to some game show. And, basically, what’s going on here is that the television is giving you the illusion of doing something, because you wasted an hour, you spent an hour watching this rather bad television show, when you could have been watching the latest horror movie or something much more entertaining.
So you’ve done something! You’ve sacrificed an hour of your life. And now you know things. You can go to work the next day and say “Do you know about the Indians and bla-bla-bla”, and everybody goes “Oh, the poor Indians!” And that’s it! That’s the end of it.
And television actually makes sure that they will never go further than this.
SM: Yes, and if it has already been on television, then why study it more? After all, the journalists have done research and got some money from the TV company. So, it’s there. And then people also need to talk about something, so let’s talk about Indians today.
HB: And this completely replaces human relations. There are people, who think that they have friends, but it turns out that they are the people at work with whom they talk about television.
This woman told me that she had quarreled with her mother years ago and that they have finally reconciled. She had traveled to visit her mother many thousands of miles. And as soon as she came into the house, the mother said, “Oh, there’s this special television show that I have to watch now”. And she said, “Mom, I thought we were reconciling after 7 or 10 years and you are going to go and watch a television show?” The mother said, “you don’t understand. I work for a living and my only friends are the people I work with and this show is the show that we discuss on Tuesdays and I have to watch this show, or I’ll have nothing to talk with my friends about. So, you will just have to wait”.
Well, you can sort of sympathize with the mother. That’s all that’s left of the social for her.
SM: What’s your opinion about the “orange revolution” in Ukraine? And about all these incredibly popular movements that bring ultra free-market freaks to power these days.
HB: Anything that the American government is in favor of – of course, I am very-very suspicious. The same thing in the Middle East: the so-called “forces of democracy” are largely pro-American, pro-capitalist people who want MTV. That is, basically, what is going on. So, it’s hard for me to take sides.
I don’t like old communists and I don’t like Islamic clergy either but the opposition is often disgusting.
When I was in Estonia, I was speaking to this nice young Estonian lady; it was around year 2000. I asked her “Who are all these guys with the cell-phones” – you could see them walking up and down the streets. She said “Oh, I know exactly who they are – I went to high-school with them. When we were in high-school, we used to sing songs about Reagan and Thatcher to make teachers angry, and these are the guys who took it seriously”.
I said “How about you? What’s your feeling?” She said, “ I thought it was great. But one day, a few years ago, I thought that it would be nice to hear some classical music, so I looked in the newspaper to see where I could go to a classical music concert. There wasn’t any! And I suddenly realized that it was Communism that paid for all that classical music and now we don’t have it anymore. That was sad!”
So a lot of this so-called “opposition” is simply pro-Americanism or a kind of weird pro-American commodities and anti-American politics, which is strange. Look, even all these Islamic fundamentalists, they LOVE Capitalism.
SM: Oh, they love money!
HB: Phewwww. They love money! They love technology!
SM: Ideologically speaking, they are nothings.
HB: They are absolutely Zero!
SM: I mean, they would reproduce the same kind of system we have right now.
HB: Yeah! Or even worse…