I came across this article thanks to Warren Ellis; I see Ellis’s point clearly enough and it’s one that I have been more than a little concerned about myself, especially in the greater occulture. Kingsnorth, the Dark Mountain, and the broader halo of thinking that surrounds and informs them has significant influence on the scene. It’s a trend that extends well-beyond the greens, too. A lot of folks who are committed to ‘preserving a culture’ are edging along similar terrain, looking to join national autonomy to cultural safety.
I’m not quite as toothsome as Ellis about this sort of thing; I wouldn’t spring so readily talk of the “nice kind of Hitler,” but this pleasant-sounding green nationalism and cultural pride is still troubling. The Heidegger comparison seems more apt. At the very least, this strain of thought, like Heidegger’s, is fascism-neutral, lending fascism and proto-fascism inroads it would otherwise not have. Like Heidegger’s thought, it is also rooted in flawed Romantic notions about what consitutes a ‘people.’
That said, I’m not sure Ellis’s implied counterpoints to nationalism (globalism and multiculturalism) are quite on-target, either. Globalism and nationalism aren’t in opposition; the idea that they are is an insidious strategic error. The nation is one of the primary nodes of globalism and any history of contemporary globalism that skips over the nation’s role in its functioning isn’t going to help us think through situation we find ourselves in. The archetype of the nation is Elizabeth I’s England, and the efforts of other regions to nationalize in competition with it hasn’t transformed the fundamentally exploitative and imperial dimension of it.
We like to talk about the way in which national autonomy has been undercut by globalizing organizations (whether they be transnational corporations, global trade organizations, or political entities), but what often gets elided in those discussions is how those globalizing forces depend upon legal and political differences between nations in order to function.
Weak labor laws in one country and stronger ones in another preserve economic inequalities that allow goods to be made cheaply in one country and sold for a steep profit in another. To pull jobs back from a less regulated country to a more regulated won’t work, unless a certain portion of the well-regulated country is subjected to deregulation, unless they are fed into the woodchipper of increasing poverty to guarantee the well-off can continue to derive the profits to which they are accustomed. Or, the elites have to move where they live to a nation that isn’t feeding its people into the woodchipper of production.
Onshoring jobs also means onshoring at least some of the inequality. When the most extreme forms of that inequality expresses itself as literal-not-at-all-metaphor slavery, commercial exploitation of prisoners, and murderous violence against people who resist national-global projects, that should trouble us. Of course, so should the slavery, exploitation, and murder of people ‘offshore.‘ Which is where the ‘progressive’ and international wing of the discussion has to look to their own complicity in horrible events abroad.
If you want to support immigrants in whatever country they find themselves, I’m all in with you, but when you are well aware that neoliberal war machines are responsible for the violence driving them into your borders? Well, it’s not enough to say nationalists are pricks for not letting them in. You may be pricks for living on the fat spilling out of their broken bodies and borders. You may be pricks, too, for what you hope immigrants might make possible. How gross is it that many (not all!) folks who support more liberal immigration policies also emphasize how those immigrants will do the jobs no citizen will do?
What opportunities do you think those immigrants will find for themselves? I am betting that for most, they will be filling out jobs constituting the onshoring of global inequality into the national scene. They will, sensibly, take what opportunities they can, and most of those opportunities will be dead end ones. When even established middle-class American youth are struggling to find purchase in the economic field, do you really think there is an American Dream planned for the immigrants we ‘welcome’?
Hint: some of those cities so hot to fight anti-immigration orders are places like Seattle, whose darling tech industries depend upon a constant flow of cheap labor brought in from overseas on work visas. Sure, those folks are promised ‘professional’ opportunities, do likely manage to squeeze some financial benefit from the situation, but it is presumed that they will be sent home as soon as the visas expire and another wave brought in. That, in turn, makes it easier for tech to exploit citizen-residents, to keep folks working at the bottom ring of the industry at the bottom, working their hustle as best they can.
Fight the power, but keep an eye on where the power falls. Remember that it isn’t just the rural core of America that is being destabilized. Those hip, young, derided urbanites are struggling hard, too, often working under a smiling fake it until you make it strategy, one that is demanded of them to participate in the smiling forward future the culture promises. Remember, too, it is the immigrants, too, spilling out from global destabilization. All trying to find a steady place as best they can.
Most of us aren’t the pricks, we’re just trying to make do in the world they’ve built, but think about that when you start jumping on to a politician’s bandwagons. Most of them are the pricks. No need to mention names, because the list would get very long indeed. Sometimes, harder questions are better than well-worn answers so long as they make space for dialogue with each other toward possible solutions.
The process of decolonialization provides us with some insight here; its complexities shine a light on what we face. It begins precisely within the boundaries established by colonial powers, inherits the nation in precisely the terms set out by colonial powers, but occurs alongside a powerful liberation of human vitality, a surge of democratic possibility and cultural growth. I have talked about Pan Africanism as a source of inspiration, and that occurs precisely along this axis full of danger and possibility.
While I don’t want to go too far off on a tangent, I do want to emphasize that much of what gets called ‘multiculturalism’ falls into the mesh of nationalism and globalism. It has the dry air of the colonial museum, with everything kept in its place to prevent people from having too many ideas or, worse, having too many experiences that tear them away from the system of production and consumption. More than a little multiculturalism is a tourist’s fantasy of the crossroads and frontera, over-conceptualized and under-lived.
(And it is precisely along this juncture of concept and life that certain elements of chaos magic, discordianism, and pop culture magic can be both lauded and damned, but rarely for the reason they are usually lauded and damned.)
The current nationalist turn isn’t an alien development to global progress. It is a reflection of global nationalism’s inherent limits, ones that I suspect are rooted in the impossibility of its generalization. There are fundamental ecological limitations which show up first in exploited nations, but there are also political and economic ones. The kind of equality enjoyed in the most comfortable European nations can’t be severed from the radical inequalities experienced in the least comfortable in nations outside that sphere. And the international system is one of the means through which the comfortable secures the stability of that arrangement.
There might be a trajectory through which contemporary globalism dissolves the nation, but, if so, we aren’t there yet. If it does, I am not optimistic about what that new globalism would look like. At present, though, the globalized world is inseparable from and dependent upon the nationalized world (and vice versa). If you are concerned about the rabid trajectory of global development from either a global or cultural perspective, neither the nation nor internationalism will be a safe place to retrench. They will both be sites of contention, not of resolution. Neither a globalized nor a nationalized conception of citizenship is up to the challenges of the present moment.
As for localism, well, that term really seems to have overextended its use and its welcome. When the circuits that mobilize life forms, material, and cut through almost every point on the globe, its hard to imagine what in the world falling back to ‘localism’ will get us. You should find yourself in the portion of the world in which your body and awareness are embedded, should cherish and nourish it (socially, economically, and ecologically), but carving it off as a distinct world that can be acted upon independently? It is simply too cross-cut with ties to the wider world that trying to draw a magical circle around it does great violence to its life.
Okay, so this is a lot of not-magical stuff, right?
If only. These ideas about the nation, the globe, and the local have crept into how we think about and practice a spiritual and magical life. They are poisoning our minds and diminishing our work. And, worse, we have better terms at our fingertips, terms that open toward a richer conceptual field more suited to the issues we face, terms like crossroads and fronteras (with much thanks to Gloria Anzaldúa).
(We arguably have even better ones just beyond our fingertips, but I’ll set that aside for the moment.)
Those terms invoke the immediacy of the local, but carry in their hearts the awareness that this immediacy is always opening up to something beyond it, a beyond from which welcomes visitors and into which it launches us. At the frontera and the crossroads we find ourselves face to face with the kinds of desires and hopes that constitute a life. Desires rather than ideas, desires which are messy, hot, overfull, at the point where they shatter the poor vessels into which they have been too hastily stuffed. Not the well-worn course with its ready markers, but the groping recuperation from its exhaustion.
So, if I am being as clear as possible, what these terms open toward is a something more dynamic than just a conceptual field; they look toward a poetical form of engagement suited to the opportunities of our moment. It spends more time in the mess of life, in the tangles of what people want and are.
Ideally, that’s the destination of Saturn’s work, the keter that is malkut crowning, where the black sun of necessity finds guidance in the flashing of a silver mirror of the Moon, where life buzzing and green breaks out around the flashing of bone through decaying flesh. Forget your high tower and spill down the hillside with the rain.
When it comes to the life of spirit, get yourself to the crossroads. It’s not a matter of this special local place (though it is a matter of finding yourself in place), but of the crossing in this place of the dark flames beneath the skin of the earth and the turning of the starry crown, between which flows the rivers of life formed not of idealized people and cultures, but of kinship forged through co-occupation.
Those sources in the depths and height constitute themselves locally, but not just in one locale. The face they form along the surface of the earth is the most contingent part, but through it all who gather around its face come into contact with it and with those gathered before its other faces. A network of celestial and cthonic forces joining disparate points along the surface of the earth intersecting with kinship of blood, space, and time that runs along that surface, forming a mesh of its own.
Those are all determinate elements, nodes and thresholds that have to worked on their own terms rather than mixed according to willfully imposed designs.
Talking isn’t doing, but I need to start somewhere, sketch the lines of movement as best I understand them in preparation. In part, to find out where the sketch fails to connect to real elements.