DEATH AND ITS PURPOSE: DEMOCRACY V. CONSENSUS IN “THE AFTERLIFE”
“…there is a minority of intellectual pacifists whose real though unadmitted motive appears to be hatred of western democracy and admiration of totalitarianism … Pacifist literature abounds with equivocal remarks which, if they mean anything, appear to mean that statesmen of the type of Hitler are preferable to those of the type of Churchill, and that violence is perhaps excusable if it is violent enough … All in all it is difficult not to feel that pacifism, as it appears among a section of the intelligentsia, is secretly inspired by an admiration for power and successful cruelty.” – Orwell, Notes on Nationalism
Taking forever to reintroduce songs to my rebuilt website, I thought I’d start up the “Des Pickard Why Songs At All? Blog.” Because how many of you will slog through this whole flipping essay, that’s why! Hopefully it’ll make me rerecord and post the damned thing, with a .gif. Today’s Why? Song is:
I have the right to Inner Peace
Cos I hate War,
(And because ending Poverty’s
Another thing I’m for,
To three Rolls Royces and
A couple mansions:
Same as everyone!)
And I have the right to be
Sent to Heaven!
I have the right to censor speech
Cos I hate Hate
And to consensus ‘cos for each
Of us, the Nature State
Is how we need to feed to
Some pack leader
the “Thy will be done”
And I have the right to be
Sent to Heaven
I have the right to be
In a world of sweet simplicity above the Air
And it’s comfortably silent and it’s dark out there
Where the final disagree-er has been blown away
And we’ll make this planet here like the moon Someday
I have the right to have my world
Meaning that I’m never asked to do
A thing at all
To sustain it
By this stain with which
And I have the right to be
Sent to Heaven
I have the right to find my place above the Air
Where there’s no-one else but me f’r’anybody to care
For, see – where everything is force, then there is free of strife:
The Afterlife, the Afterlife, the Afterlife,
I have the right to inner peace
cos I serve Death
And when this dying planet tries to breathe its
That’s not relieved,
you’d better bet, by anyth
ing I’ve done
Cos I have the right to Peace
And to trample rival beasts
And to peace and
To be sent
Maybe fifteen years back when I wrote this I was furious at some activists who had finally gotten thrown out of a Left group I was in only when I was relieved of the compulsion to keep denouncing them by being thrown out myself, as my punishment for bumming everyone out by denouncing them (during the delay, we had springboarded them into other left groups: and that’s forever gonna be on me). Above All I was furious at the folks who refused to be bummed out, and their process of of consensus.
Consensus is all about getting thrown out of groups. The ultimate point of Left activism is that we’re all getting thrown out of a planet, so: surprise! we also get thrown out of groups. I do recommend getting thrown out of groups – justice is what love looks like in public, better to have loved and lost, and love never entirely ends, etc. etc.
A big fight we wrestled with was consensus versus democracy. Democracy sucks for the purposes of a wolfpack, an army, a civil disobedience cell, a psych unit deescalation team, a family with toddlers. Outwitting the deer[/the foe/the police/the psychotic episode/the lure of the electric outlet] is life-or-death, and absolute unity of purpose is needed. God bless consensus in those circumstances and fascism was only ever the effort to squeeze a large industrial society down into a small wolfpack or nuclear family, thereby ensuring that millions would briefly enjoy the kind of pure speechless affection for a leader which we all yearn for, and at the mere cost of a population reduction down to maybe one parental authority and 2.5 children.
The way consensus works, is someone makes a proposal. If it’s a pack-leading alpha making the proposal, then either everyone agrees or some beta blocks consensus and gets thrown out for doing so. If it’s a beta making the proposal, an alpha agrees or else the beta backs down or is thrown out for not doing so. In either case it’s the stubborn person tearing the group apart who gets thrown out, not the sage and wise commander. In consensus every decision, by design, is an existential crisis, and pack hierarchies require the whole pack to loathe and fear beta challengers to the alpha, until one succeeds in biting a hole in the alpha’s scrotum and squeezing out his testicles, after which that beta retroactively ceases to be aggressive. The aggression we most notice is aggression by the weak – think of the United States and Iran, for instance. You ever notice?
Narcissism is taking any stress as an existential threat, and without a system like voting, disagreement is always an existential threat. Within consensus-addled groups, a nearly-religious animus against voting seems to arise, and that’s because voting presumes disagreement, which, if you can’t fall back on voting, equals war. And who wants war? When existential threats abound, turning every conflict into one is good practice. Not so much when war is avoidable, save that inner peace feels so good.
On psych wards there’s a technique for de-escalating the delusional at their most violent, a technique whose substance greatly resembles Milton Rosenberg’s cult of “Nonviolent Communication.” The consensus mavens in my party loved to be in this cult. The psych ward technique is not for normal use on the wards, where patients are meant to get _well_, but fifteen years ago, hopefully less so now, plenty of consensus-minded peacelings were recommending this procedure as the only permissible type of speech for the whole of society, so that their own inner peace might be assured.
Here’s how it goes: in speech you exclusively talk about your needs and those of the person you’re wheeling-dealing with: you ignore the needs of third parties outside the room (a wonderful idea in idealistic politics) because if people are merely animals, then ethics are lies, and bumming folks out with appeals to principle is not only deceptive but also both constitutes and (of course) justifies violence.
Not even kidding! That’s the central teaching of the cult, depending on which instructor you listen to (I sadly had to listen to more than one). These rules were nakedly, unapologetically fascist, both in content and tone, but only because they were being misapplied to everyday life, where they left scant room for diversity, political discussion, or (dear God!) socialism. As with so much fake leftism, including so much of P.C., that seemed to be the point.
We not only loved the wolves but wanted to be them. Of coruse, becoming wolves kills the real wolves faster, ditto becoming children. But a weird sort of ecofeminism, I thought then, was being tried which seemed to go: “a she-wolf will support one alpha against all betas until he, himself, grows too sick and weak, and a new alpha is allowed to emerge: If we love both wolves and ourselves as Women, let’s _combine_ those, and slavishly obey a patriarch!” It was the damnedest thing.
We tried to support civil disobedience activists in the same way, by pretending we _were_ them at any particular time. We were constantly outwitting the pigs, which meant we in the room were saints, and everyone else, the pigs: we bravely disobeyed the entire world for the cause dear to us, which was generally ourselves. We, ourselves, _were_ peace! In real danger situations, where nothing but the survival of those nearest matters, then yeah, the quest for safe-space lebensraum is also everything. Gandhian “Truth Force” (note that second word) needs the most disciplined soldiers of any army, since it requires the intensest conceivable soldierly courage: Expanded into the wrong spheres of action, though – well, I wouldn’t want to be the deer.
So this song contrasted the demand for simplicity – a purity of feeling, a readiness for action, the release from all strife which surrender to pure force allows – versus sustainability, which means “complexity in retreat”, a process of being defeated as slowly as possible: and it contrasted the peace of the grave, always preferably someone else’s, with peace, which means suffering through a ceaseless war with our own hearts all day every fucking day (We all take breaks, it’s okay – but then so, of course, does peace).
Sustainability presumes failure – complexity will and does die. And that’s a bummer because we don’t like doomed effort. Why not skip to the end, or toss aside the book unread, if it’s going to end? Consensus is a process to have debates with all the debate taken out. Anarchy, it turns out, is rules – that’s in some other song of mine, we’ll get to that. Anyhow, when you’ve been thrown out of a Left movement, labeling your chief exilers as death cultists is a comfort. Again, try it: I can’t say so enough.
In re: the actual Heaven, these days I have some minimal Christopher Lasch and Simone Weil under my belt, or at least in my breast pocket Where Resides the Smartphone, and I do hope I run across some new paradigm-shifting writers soon, since it gets repetitive always fanatically citing those – let me also mention Karen Armstrong while I’m at it. Lasch’s “The True and Only Heaven” was hell to scan and text-recognize and get onto my smartphone, so that my phone can be wise in my place.
I wrote this song as a simpler sort of atheist than I currently am, one who certainly prayed a lot less of the time, but since then, the uses of a complex poetic tradition of Heaven, one useful in discouraging panic responses to death, has become more and more important for my politics. “Listen to the mind of God, that doesn’t need to be” – Leonard Cohen. A great reason for our “…which art in Heaven” is that when panic eases up and leaves us room to pray, a Father who’s actually _worth_ deferring to can sometimes manage the trick of reducing not a whit in importance while nevertheless retiring someplace unimaginably far away, since, fortunately, it’s a place that doesn’t exist _either_.
I got much more into songwriting by getting thrown out of political groups (do it!) and realizing, terrifyingly for humankind this late in the game, that politics is theology all the way down. Simone Weil went from antistalinist socialism in “Oppression and Liberty” to her martyr’s guidebook “Gravity and Grace,” and it _was_ an improvement. At first Leonard Cohen sang “Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.”, then “May the lights in the Land of Plenty shine on the truth, Someday.” Then, “I’m ready, my lord.” That’s politics too.
Democracy is the right to learn from your mistakes and grow up even as you die of them. It’s like loving a God that doesn’t exist and a world you refuse to forget is gearing up to throw you out. Daddy won’t save you, but it’s worth loving His nonexistent ass and loving the world that’s soon to be about as nonexistent as He is, as are you: properly doing your work while you’re here. Die like you _were_ going to be able to love the world after leaving it. The species will die, but a bit later if we can handle the fact and not rush toward it? Leonard sings: “you want to get there soon, I’m just trying to make it last.” He eventually wrote everything I meant to say, so why I bother writing songs, I’ll never know.
Democracy, like religion, is accepting the loss of this thing in advance so you can love it properly, the paradox yadda yadda of dying in order to live. Try it: I’m serious. Free market zealotry hands the Market daddy all our choices, leaving us with all force, no strife, like the planets in their mindless ellipses, like the erzatz exoplanet Heaven which is the market zealot idiots’ answer to climate change, a market-made future paradise which must excuse every liberal’s callous indifference today. Consensus is a worship of force, whereas to stay in political groups one learns (one _learns_) to give silence its sphere – everything dies on a dying planet – and shelter life in secret. What else can you do?
Simone Weil wrote: “It is only possible to choose hell through an attachment to salvation … Not to desire that what we love should be immortal. … it is not in our power to conceive of the soul as really incorporeal. So this belief is in fact a belief in the prolongation of life, and it robs death of its purpose,” but then she died young shortly after penning these aphorisms, and couldn’t write an interminable blog essay about them. There – that’s its purpose if anything is.