In one of his many articles on social evolution, Hakim Bey writes about the well-underway Autonomous Zone Movement, where people have been actively seeking ways to restore human contact through various periodic gatherings and unmediated festivals, encampments, and nights of liberation. Which reminded me of one exceptionally dark night in a pilot house illuminated solely by the amber glow on the compass and red hue from the Radio Direction Finder and marineband radio to which we listened with distraction on our long slow journey crossing the Gulf of Alaska one night, on our way from Cape Fairweather to Cape St. Elias.
Briefly, as we smoked hand-rolled cigarettes and sipped boat coffee with our chocolate chip cookies, we caught a trace of English amongst the clutter of Russian and Japanese from the fleets of high seas trawlers working through the night somewhere over the horizon. As we checked our drift and set by radio and chart in those days before GPS, we momentarily heard the words “Bering, Bering–Beaver, over” and I excitedly set caliper and parallel rule aside as Thorstein disengaged the auto-pilot motor to better hear the faint voice perhaps calling our vessel out of the darkness.
When I took the helm while Sandy replied, the fleeting communication from his son — far away in the Aleutians — made possible by some unexplained combination of atmospheric conditions, informed us of his progress toward the cannery at Naknek, and then was gone. And when recalling these voices in the ether long ago, I was reminded of the virtual archipelago of voices gathered periodically in the virtual reality of blogging, and what delight ensues when we hear voices of those we’ve met, as well as those we hope to someday, and how this communicating in the dark and across the ether is creating in some small way part of the fabric of what Hakim Bey once wrote about in his essays on communing face-to-face.
And I think about the fact of our cultural marginalization, but take heart in the knowledge that we are at least self-organized.
In his 1985 most eloquent exploration of economic and cultural utopias — ranging from the Roanoke colonists to 18th century Caribbean pirate enclaves to worker-owned corporations in the 20th century — Hakim examined the essence of “intentional communities” as mini-societies often living consciously outside the law and determined to keep it up, even if only for a short but merry life. With the decay of our political systems today, independent enclaves or liberated zones of economic and cultural activity are again cropping up. They can be seen in Argentine worker factories salvaged from the ruins of IMF policy, and in Italian social centers where whole neighborhoods of reclaimed buildings have been occupied by the underclass who’ve created out of nothing their own institutions, including schools and commerce.
Once thought of as anarchic, such islands in the 21st century have become a matter of necessity — not luxury — in surviving the malign neglect of the market. Bey, unlike adherents of cults or sects that sought to withdraw from the barbarities of dominant societies, views autonomous zones as a means to evade the violence of the modern state, as well as havens from which “life as festival” can emerge.
In a July 10, 1996 interview, Hakim observed,
I feel a psychic malaise that is something quite new, and, well, a few years ago I began noticing in public speaking that there was a great deal less response on the part of audiences. You would get audiences that would sit there quite passively looking at you as if you were on television. And if questions came, they were very likely to be questions such as “Tell us what to do”. …And I began hearing about it from other people who are involved in public speaking and then finally I read a whole section about it in Noam Chomsky’s latest book. He has exactly the same experience of audiences, and all of these experiences begin around 1989, 1991.
What I think has happened to us is not just TV. TV is just a symptom. So, what’s happening is a kind of cognitive collapse around this single world. When people no longer feel a possibility in the world, a possibility of another position, then they become consciously opposed to the one. And conscious opposition is extremely difficult in an atmosphere that’s completely poisoned by media such that no oppositional voice is ever really heard. Unless you yourself make the effort to get down to the alternative media, where that voice is still feebly speaking, then you’re left simply in this one world of sameness and separation.
Sameness — everything is the same; separation — every individual is separated from every other individual; complete alienation, complete unity. And I think that on the unconscious level, on the level of images, on the mythological level, on the religious level if you wanna put it that way, this is what’s happening, especially in America. I can’t really speak of other places to the same degree. I’ve traveled in other countries, but one never has the sense of other countries the way one has the sense of one’s own country. But I would imagine that it’s a world-wide phenomenon — this kind of capitulation to the mono-culture on the deepest psychic level.
Today, with Occupy and Rainbow Revolutions marching across the New York Times and the cover of Time magazine, we might be tempted to think liberation is just around the corner. But what is really occupying most peoples minds? Is it a burning desire for freedom and the responsibilities that requires, or simply a nostalgia for the imbecilic comforts of consumer culture now denied them?
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