Monday, September 7, 2009

Liberation Day?

[Pic: Wannabe revolutionaries from suburban Houston rest their corn syrup-fed bodies beneath the shade of the monument to "Heroes of the Alamo."]

I started off my Labor Day weekend Saturday morning typing away in Little City Coffee on Congress Avenue in Austin, just a block and a half south of the Texas Capitol. As the morning progressed, increasingly large numbers of people could be seen walking toward the Capitol carrying protest signs, many of them stopping to get a coffee or a Coke (the baristas did not mention that these Cokes were smuggled from Mexico, where they sweeten things with actual sugar).

When I had gotten my work done, I decided to follow them. Alas, they were not advocating the liberation from work. They were throwing a Tea Party, a right-libertarian protest of governance by Washington. "Party," as one sign read, "like its 1773."

Jenny Holzer (@jennyholzer) may be right when she tweets "THE IDEA OF REVOLUTION IS AN ADOLESCENT FANTASY." Certainly in a society that is as affluent as ours. But a culture that weans its youth on the society's revolutionary mythos, a secular gospel of the right of revolt grounded in natural law and social contract, will always have to deal with disenfranchised fragments yearning for the blood — real or metaphorical — of those they view as tyrants.

[Pic: A group prayer, one of those post-Christian "vanquish my enemies"-type prayers.]

The Tea Party people, a surprisingly small group of a few hundred gathered from various parts of Texas (heavy on Houston, naturally), are white middle class suburbanites. Nice folks, basically — you know, to the extent people working on a PG-rated real-life version of The Turner Diaries could be called "nice."

What were they protesting? I'm not sure it was all that specific. There was a series of disparate speakers emceed by a comedic young goateed Christian, with plenty of jibes about the health care debate. But the event was really a general vent, an exorcism of generalized suppressed rage about the state of contemporary American society.

[Pic: Sensible white sneakers are the preferred footwear among Tea Party revolutionaries.]

What these folks are really protesting, in my estimation, is the general failure of America to live up to its mythic paradigm, the version depicted in all of our cultural programming from Hollywood, the schools, and the stories of our parents and grandparents. They are protesting the profound condition of alienation in which we all live, of the absence of any authentic sense of community — a generalized feeling that ends up directed at whoever is perceived to be in power. They are protesting the consequences of the relentless advance of capital accelerated by technological advancement — the technological mediation of all "personal" interactions, the obliteration of geography and the rootedness in the local, the hyper-specialization of all labor, the hollowness of consumption as the sole basis of leisure, and, yes, the role of big government (in the permanent embrace of mass media) as facilitator of our collective mental enslavement.

Okay, maybe that gives the implicitly racist Tea Party troglodytes too much credit, but I think there's something to it. And how sad that their profound energies are so unfocused, so easily manipulated by post-populist cable TV demagogues looking to drive up their ratings. Shouldn't a Labor Day protest be about breaking down the shackles of capital — the liberation from work?

[Pic: Naturally, the only person of color at the Labor Day Texas Tea Party Rally was a LaRouche supporter.]

Labor Day is perhaps the most ironic of government-created holidays — a day in which we celebrate a very brief, usually self-medicated, respite from the binding of our lives to purportedly productive activity that commonly affords us no real satisfaction. It's all there in the cultural cue of the word "Labor," encoded with all the negative aspects of work as toil, as opposed to rewarding productive and creative engagement. Rather than worshipping the idea of the "day off," wouldn't a better observance involve a temporary abolition of the division of labor, such that everyone did someone else's job for the day, or engaged in bona fide creative production of goods and services from which they were not alienated?

(I am ignoring, of course, the very depressing report in today's NYT about the millions of Americans who have so completely given up trying to find work that they no longer show up in the unemployment statistics — causing some to speculate the real number of unemployed may be as high as 20%.)

Or, you could go catch the matinee of the new Gerard Butler grimace vehicle, Gamers, which illustrates the contemporary condition in beautiful technicolor cartoon fashion. Like The Matrix with balls and a sense of humor: a near-future in which our brains are re-wired to play meaningless games under the control of others, the perfect convergence of the division of labor with the Society of the Spectacle. A little close to home, I thought, in a society where our self-images are so infiltrated by commodified cathode ray virals that our brains have been proven to devote an individual neuron to each celebrity in the pantheon. Bookended by an opening shot of advertising on the side of the Great Pyramid, and a denouement that opens with a nanobot-enabled Sammy Davis Kung Fu fight (!).

"It ain't just a game. We're all slaves." — Ludacris as the undergound revolutionary bio-hacker in *Gamers.*

Or you could click through to Arthur Magazine for this outstanding interview with Peter Lamborn Wilson (aka Hakim Bey), who may help you map out a path to the creation of your own Temporary Autonomous Zone in the remainder of your day off. The real Declaration of Independence that needs to happen starts in each of our heads.

Or you could just have a few beers.

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