Thursday, July 17, 2014

Spirituality: when our lives leak out of capitalism's pipelines

This is the first in a series of pieces analyzing contemporary spirituality and its relationship to the capitalist system.  When I'm done with all of these essays, I hope to put them together into a 'zine. 

My goal in writing these pieces is to understand, cultivate, and sharpen our spiritual longings for total freedom and communization. However, I also aim to update and improve methods of radical social analysis in the process.  I have a hunch that improving how we analyze spirituality could improve how we analyze society in general.  That, in turn, could help give us more confidence to change it. 



The experiences we call spiritual are in fact real, embodied social experiences; they are connected to the politics, economics, and culture of the broader society we live in, though they can never be reduced to them.  We call these experiences spiritual precisely because they don't fit neatly into the identities and roles this society has set up for us, so they appear to be exceptional, or even sacred.  In other words, spirituality is one of the terms we use to describe the anomalous and mysterious aspects of capitalist society, the ways in which society cannot contain our desires and activities.

These anomalies are potentially subversive, or even revolutionary; some of them point in the direction of communization, anarchy, and the destruction of capitalism.  However, our spiritual anomalies are also coopted back into capitalism through society's spectacles, including religion, consumerism, new age self help cultures, and even some quasi-religious aspects of social movement activism.

For this reason, we often find spirituality on both sides of the barricades in contemporary social conflicts.  And this is significant because those barricades and conflicts aren't just in the streets; they are in our very minds and bodies.

Spirituality is our curves of flight, breaking out of the system's pipelines 

The philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari argue that every society oozes out of itself. They call these flows "lines of flight" (1), though I think it would have been better if they called them curves since they are rarely straight and they run in all directions.  This image attempts to illustrate their metaphor:

The square along the outside symbolizes society.  It is composed of pipelines: all the ways in which our current political, economic, and social system channels and regulates the course of our lives.  For example, in the United States, it channels many black and brown youth on a pipeline directly from school to prison.  It channels other youth into college, student loan debt, and precarious low wage employment, and still others into managerial roles, relative privilege, and suicidal alienation.

In reality, society's pipelines are not a simple square.  The advanced capitalist society we live in is a giant, complex network of machinery that colonizes our bodies and minds, and those of many other species as well.  It forces the vast majority of us to divide our lives into commodities, and attaches those pieces of life to chains of other commodities.  Then it wrenches these commodities apart at a sickening rate, dragging our fragmented lives with them through twisting pipelines:  families, schools, machinery,  media, prisons, crashing stock markets, rising toxic oceans.

Capitalism forces us to divide ourselves into unstable and contradictory identities such as Black, White, Male, Female, Worker, Unemployed, Citizen, non-Citizen, recruiting some of us to help dominate the rest.  Then, when it doesn’t need us anymore, it spits out our broken bodyminds, cast among the  littered bodies of other beings, in a toxic, warming, hyper-surveiled landscape of prisons, ghettos, slums, nursing homes, and mental hospitals.

In this sense, capital is like a vampirish cybernetic machine.  It reproduces itself by sucking up our life energy, making us work and consume almost constantly.  It is so resilient because we can only reproduce our selves in our current form by also reproducing it.  It is a parasite and we are its hosts. If we want to dismantle it, we need to transform ourselves.

And, deep down we know that's possible, despite all of the mainstream media messaging aimed at convincing us there is no alternative.  Like any machine, this system has its weak points, joints in its pipes that are bent and corroded by the strains of our desires and efforts.  At these points, our lives start to break through in cascading curves of alternative possibilities, tentatively swarming toward each other like the illuminated strands in the image above.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Comments and social media sharing enabled

Sorry folks, I just realized I had forgotten to enable comments and social media sharing features on this blog when I revamped it last week.  I just enabled them so that we can engage in discussion.  If you tried to post a comment this week and it didn't go through, please try again.

thanks for your patience,

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Conspiring, meditating, and breathing climate change

All these apocalyptic movies, youtube videos, and theologies show we are very anxious about global warming. For many, this anxiety is immobilizing.  Since it seems nothing can be done about it, nothing is worth doing.

The response by some spiritual leaders is to encourage us to take a moment to breathe, to meditate, to focus on the air entering and exiting our lungs, to live in the present moment.  Presumably they hope this meditation will give us the courage to do something to solve the problem.  But what exactly does it mean to do breathing meditation in an era of global warming?

Maybe it means to conspire.

I just started reading Longing for Running Water, by Ivone Gebara, a feminist theologian from Brazil.   She mentions an ecofeminist group in Chile called the Con-spirando Collective.  In the first issue of their journal they write:

"we invite you to participate in convoking a network of Latin American women who seek to develop their own spirituality and theology in order to better reflect our experiences of the sacred.  The very name of this journal - Con-spirando - is an attempt to picture some of these experiences: the image of 'breathing together', which in itself evokes images of the planet as the great lung of life" (cited in Gebara,  Location 280, Kindle Edition) 

This is strikingly similar to how I've been imagining non-escapist spirituality: "We are the dispossessed who meditate with our eyes open, especially when we take to the streets in protest. Our mindful breathing is a small part of the planet's climate, overheated by capital's reckless death drives. "

That image of breathing climate change was inspired by practicing Zen breathing meditation and reading Timothy Morton's book Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology After the End of the World.

Morton argues that we are already living after the end of the world.  The planet and biological life still exist, but our ability to conceptualize these as a "world" or "nature" has collapsed.   These concepts imply they are the backdrop to our life stories, the atmosphere that decorates our lives as we go about our business.  When we do think of these things, we assess them the way we might assess the atmosphere of a restaurant by writing a review on Yelp.  The concepts of world and nature imply that non-human beings are neutral, objectified, and separate from us, to the point where we can take them for granted most of the time.

Morton says this concept of nature and world has collapsed because the atmosphere itself is changing perilously, and the air we breathe in and out of our faces is part of that change.  We can no longer objectify it or take it for granted.

He describes leaving the grocery store and having a casual conversation with a stranger about the unusually hot weather.  The weather is no longer a comforting, familiar presence you can invoke to find common ground with that stranger.  You either end up mentioning global warming or you consciously avoid talking about.  In either case, the situation starts to feel more like conspiring than talking about the weather.

Morton argues we are realizing something that was true all along: we are stuck to the mesh of objects that we used to call world. What happens to air, water, and forests affects us.  As the Con-spirando collective puts it, "we need to re-situate ourselves, and from there to re-weave our daily lives, the web or relationships that gives form to our societies". (cited in Gebara,  Location 283, Kindle Edition).

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Rosaries, Saints, and Ancestors

This week I started carrying my grandmother's rosary while I teach and organize, and I restarted an old meditation practice of saying Hail Marys like a mantra. I'm praying to Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patron saint of liberation. Feeling connected to ancestors through the communion of saints is giving me strength to love in the face of death, change, and loss.

I've also been wondering how much the practice of the communion of saints is influenced by indigenous traditions around the world. When Christianity was co-opted into a Roman imperial religion, did some of my ancestors continue their grassroots practices of ancestor veneration in and through saint veneration? I'd like to find out. I've heard indigenous people have continued their traditions mixed with Catholicism in the western hemisphere.  In La Frontera, Gloria Anzaldua says veneration of La Virgen de Guadalupe comes from / is an indigenous practice. 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

This is a prayer

By my friend Liz Kramer

If I can choose to live in the place inside of me
where I refuse to doubt my own truth,
or the power of who I am
this is a prayer.

And if I can say no to the voice inside of me
that wants me to doubt my own significance
or importance or divinity,
this no is a prayer.

And if I can say yes to the part of me
that knows I am gifted in love,
filled with intention, wrought
in the places where the trees were,
truth seeker
This yes is a prayer.

And if I can know that being human is a thirst
that cries to know God,
and if I can hold the suffering of the people
and feel love,
these are prayers.