Closed to the bigger connection

I had occasion, the other day, to visit for the first time the small village in northern France that was supposedly the home of my long-distant paternal ancestors.

It was pouring with rain. I had intended to mark my “return” with a coffee in a local café, but there only seemed to be one such venue and it was shut. Very shut.

The boulangerie was also closed, as was the pizzeria-crêperie. The only shop that appeared to be open was the boucherie, which is of limited appeal to a vegetarian. The butcher suspiciously glared out at me as I peered inside. 

And that was that. No sudden thrill of centuries-old recognition, no instant bonding with the geographically-preserved spirit of my forefathers. 

Of course. Did I really expect there to be? Didn’t I already know that the power of place to which we can often connect has nothing to do with our individuality or our genetic inheritance?

When I look back at the places that have made a real impression on me – that have reached out and seized me on the inside – I can see no personal, familial or tribal connection at all.

In all of them I felt a kind of forcefield, an energised memory still radiating patterns from what we call the past, making a mockery of our obsession with time by cutting straight through the centuries and plugging us directly into what is merely another aspect, not always accessible, of the same reality.

And this connection is available for all of us to experience.

A great tragedy of certain strands of the völkisch movement at the end of the 19th century, whether in pan-Germanic, pan-Slavic or Zionist form, was the espousal of specific sources of collective inspiration, related to the heredity of those concerned.

This kind of thinking is not a connection, but a cutting-off. Every German who revelled in the heritage of the “Indo-Aryan” peoples was spurning the opportunity to draw deeper from the well of human experience, denying him or herself any soul-connection with the peoples behind the wisdom of Taoism, native American spirituality, Sufism or the Kabbalah.

Why do this? Defining oneself in terms of one particular “race” or “nation” (in spite of the patent absurdity of these rigid classifications) is an extension of egotism.

It is a means of establishing one’s own identity by contrast with an “other”, which one is not. The corollary of a sense of pride in this identity is, of course, a projection of all the bad qualities one does not like about oneself on to those who do not share this specific identity.

European colonialists elevated their own sense of self-worth by abasing, in their minds, the value of indigenous peoples and their cultures. Nazis did the same to Jews and right-wing Zionists do the same today to Palestinians. And so on.

I would conclude by saying that the only connection worth having is to the whole of humankind, but this does not go far enough. A love of humanity that is matched by a callous indifference to the sentient creatures with whom we share this planet is a blinkered and lop-sided affair.

If you believe, as I do, that the whole of Earth, indeed the universe, is sentient on a macrocosmic level, then the picture becomes clearer.

It is the Whole to which we must connect, and we should not limit ourselves to narrow concepts of how and where we might find that connection, which may lie hidden in the shadows of a mountain forest or glitter in the eyes of a passing stranger in a city street.

If we are to find those points, those moments, then we need to keep our minds and hearts constantly open and ready to embrace them.

One thing for sure, as I found out, is that they won’t be neatly marked out for us on a Michelin map or solemnly inscribed in your family tree.

* I am back from France in time to give my talk at the Anarchist Bookfair in London on Saturday October 19 at 5pm. See you there!


Don’t Kill Yourself!

A letter to an anarchist friend 

I was deeply shocked by what you told me last night in the café.

I know I didn’t say much at the time, almost brushed it aside with a few empathetic mumblings.

But this morning I’ve been struck by the immense sadness behind your words and feel the need for a somewhat delayed reaction.You said, as I am sure you recall, that the world we live in is so bad, so far beyond redemption, that you feel like killing yourself to escape from it.

I never would have imagined that you could feel like that – feel like I do, in fact, though I’ll come back to that later.

You are, after all, young (from my point of view at least), perfectly healthy (apart from a slight cold which I am sure was not a pertinent factor!), in a stable and loving relationship, financially secure thanks to a job you don’t seem to mind too much, actively involved in trying to make the world a better place…

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that this is not enough. Why should it be? But you’ve always seemed to me like someone blessed with an inner force of positivity, propelling you forward with such momentum as to leave doubt and despair trailing helplessly along behind.

Maybe if your life had stopped in some way, then I would have accepted that all this debris had caught you up and entangled you in its confusion.

But then it’s not really about you at all, is it? Any more than my own unease and anxiety are about me and my little life.

You’ve had your eyes open long enough to see the whole picture, the picture that most people around us have to blank out of their consciousnesses in order to remain ‘sane’ – which means to carry on living out their phoney existences in a phoney manner without being troubled by the inconvenience of thought.

You’ve seen all that. You’ve seen the layers upon layers of lies that smother us and stop us from growing tall and strong inside as nature intended.

You’ve clambered up on the shoulders of the people you’ve met, the writers you’ve read, the dreams you’ve dreamt, and you’ve seen that beyond the wall that surrounds our everyday lives is another wall, and then another, in concentric circles marking out the limits of our identity, our freedom, our imagination, our potential.

We are all prisoners of a society, a civilization, so life-destroying, so corrupt, so ruthless, so brutal, so all encompassing, that all who see its hideous face revealed are in danger of being turned to stone – immobilised by the sickening dread of complete powerlessness.

How can we destroy this monstrous machine that is pulping into mincemeat so many tender, hopeful, human beings like you?

How can we even start the task of destroying it? Or think about starting to do so?

Whose life is long enough, whose energy and courage sufficient, whose patience and perseverence so divine that they could embark upon such a mission with any kind of confidence?

How can you free someone who doesn’t even know they are a slave?

How can you inspire people to win back something they don’t even realise they’ve lost?

How can you urge them on to fight an enemy that they can’t see, that they can’t distinguish from the wobbly stage scenery and cardboard props of what they have been taught to think of as reality?

After generation upon generation in cages, do birds lose the urge to fly? Or do they just accept that a feeble fluttering from perch to perch is the nearest they are ever going to get?

No, it’s not enough, this half-life we are condemned to lead, with chains and blinkers on our souls as we trudge on and on, turning the treadmill of profit for the greedy, loathsome few, sometimes holding hands or singing together to make us feel less worthless.

It’s not enough even to have tried to escape, to have smashed your head against the wall time and time again, the blood mixing with your tears as you scream that you WILL be free.

And it’s not enough to find some quiet corner of the global prison where you can pretend you are at liberty, to crouch in some sheltered spot, behind a bush maybe, and hum sweet songs to yourself with fingers firmly planted in both ears to stop the sound of humanity’s wailing from disturbing your reverie.

It’s not enough, I know, and I have also often thought that suicide was the only way out – a comforting emergency exit in case it all does finally become unbearable.

My own contemplation of self-murder does not shock or thrill me any more, though. It bores me. It’s been aired so often over the years, the decades in fact, that it’s become stale and indigestible. But when you come out with same idea, it makes we want to weep.

Don’t do it! Don’t kill yourself!

I don’t know how serious you were, but don’t even talk about it, let alone think about it!

I wouldn’t say this if you were already dead, if you had sunk into a way of being so superficial that there really was no point in you staying alive, if you were compromised, polluted or stymied to such an extent that the earthly form we know as ‘you’ had nothing left to offer.

I have nothing against suicide in some, nay many, circumstances.

But to kill ourselves because of our despair at finding ourselves born and trapped in this prison-world is to miss out on an amazing opportunity.

When I was much younger, I had a vision of myself on the top floor of a multi-storey car park in the suburban town where I grew up.

I could no longer bear living in the realm of the plastic undead and I stood on the edge of the wall, the sun in my hair and the breeze making me squint, ready to step into the void.

At the very moment that I stepped out, an old man appeared from nowhere and pulled me back. I didn’t know who he was at the time, but I suspect now that he was maybe the concept of my older self.

He told me that, instead of jumping from the car park, I should simply close my eyes and imagine I was doing so, imagine the fast falling, the impact, the end.

I should think about everything that was now gone. My memories, my connections, my fears, my hopes, my perceived obligations.

And then, he said in this vision of mine, I should open my eyes again and find, to my astonishment, that I was still alive, still there, still real.

But all the rest of me had really gone. All those things I should or would have done would now never be accomplished. All that life I should or would have led would now never unfold. Nothing was expected of me. Nothing was demanded of me. I simply was.

Think now, he said, how and who you want to be, all freed from the burdens you have been persuaded to take upon yourself.

Think now of what potential you possess as a raw human being with the power of moving, talking, interacting with the world around you.

You are an angel fallen from the sky, he said, still draped in the afterbirth of the celestial mother.

You have been sent here to do what you can, do what you must, to help bring about the great insurrection of the enslaved and dispossessed, to help crack open the crust of earthly power and deceit and unleash the tide of cleansing fire that swells beneath.

Imagine if all the would-be suicides in the world did the same – pulled back from the brink and became what they knew deep down they needed to be! What an army that would make, taking on the life-deniers with nothing left to lose!

He saw that I had understood and he said: “Just think – if you had really stepped over that edge, you would have died. Instead, you’ve been born.”

I’ve always remembered this whenever I contemplate suicide, even though it only ever took place in my imagination. I like to think I have lived by it to some extent – but, I’m afraid, not as deeply as I would have liked.

It wasn’t a one-off, though, and from time to time I leap again in my imagination, eyes tightly closed, and open them to find myself wrapped in a fresh skin, pulsating with new determination to leave my constructed self behind and throw my earthly presence, all clean and unencumbered, up against the scaly flesh of the Beast.

So don’t kill yourself – just offer yourself up, time and time again to be used as they see fit by the forces of good, of life, of resistance to evil.

We are all lonely sparks of light, separated from the Whole and homesick for reunion.

That day will come soon enough, but while we still have our own separate form, we have work to do, a destiny to fulfil.

Long may you continue to shine!