2017: The Year Shit Got Finished

I’ve just taken a few days off for the first time since Christmas/New Year, and wow, I really needed it. I have to learn to stop working myself to the point of exhaustion. I always realize I’m totally burned out way too late. Of course, the main reason this keeps happening is that I so desperately want to get The Council of Crows out of the way, but the amount of effort it takes to work on a Lands of Dream game can’t always be sustained like you’d think. The Sea Will Claim Everything was created in an insane rush of nonstop work that went on for several months, but if I want to make a game that’s equally good, and more elaborate in a lot of ways, I just can’t do it like that. Sometimes I need to stop and recharge my batteries, do some research, find some inspiration. I need this more with the Lands of Dream games than with other work, because of the sheer amount of references and links embedded into each game.

I retrospect, as I’ve said before, something like Patreon would have been a much better model for supporting the Lands of Dream. Much better than Indiegogo, not because there’s anything wrong with Indiegogo, but because this particular type of game is just too unpredictable.

Speaking of Patreon, since it’s taking me so long to finish the game (and it’s mainly me, at this point, as Verena’s health problems that made drawing difficult are getting better), I’ve decided to keep treating the Indiegogo backers like other people do their Patreon supporters. Which means that since Omegaland is finished and greenlit and coming to Steam in the next few weeks, backers will receive keys for that game too. Please make sure to keep your Indiegogo email up to date, or let me know if there’s a problem.

The good news is that old projects are finally getting finished, and there are new projects to look forward to. Games may always take longer to finish than anyone expects, but this year they are getting finished!

In terms of new projects, there are several that haven’t been announced yet, but you may have heard about Phoenix Point. That’s the strategy game from Julian Gollop, the creator of X-COM. And, umm, do I need to say more? X-COM has been a huge influence, and I think this is the first time that I heard about a project and immediately said “please hire me!” I’m co-writing this game with Allen Stroud, and the first couple of stories (background material, but can be read on their own) are already available on the website. Mine is called The Hatch, and there are more to come.

I’ll write more in a separate post soon, but this is obviously ridiculously exciting.

The other projects I’m working on are games I’m co-writing with Verena, and I can’t wait to tell you more. Hopefully I’ll be able to do so soon.

In general, it looks like 2017 will be the point where a lot of the hard, exhausting work of the last few years pays off, and you all finally get to enjoy the stories that have been haunting my brain for so long. Now, if the world could refrain from ending while I finish this stuff, that would be good.

The Entirely Ordinary Victory of Donald J. Trump

The election of a deeply reactionary representative of the American plutocracy – and political outsider – to the office of President seems to have caused a major intellectual crisis in American liberalism. Or perhaps not so much a crisis as a panic – a sudden desperation to deflect any and all political responsibility or criticism. This has led to these two narratives in particular:

  1. Trump won because of a sudden upsurge in racism and sexism among “white men.”
  2. Trump won because of a Russian conspiracy.

The second narrative is so ludicrous that it’s hard to argue against, as it bases itself on a purely propagandistic worldview. It’s shocking that this tangle of conspiracy theories, racism, and outright invention has survived the decades since the end of the Cold War intact to this degree, although its function as a distraction from internal political crises and systemic economic crises is sadly entirely predictable. That representatives of liberalism in the media and politics can seriously portray Russia – a regional power at best, with vanishingly little industrial or military power compared to the United States – as some sort of cartoonish nation of moustache-twirling spies, and Vladimir Putin (a deeply conservative ruler with strong autocratic tendencies, like so many others) as some sort of Machiavellian evil genius speaks to a profound desperation.

At this point, no meaningful evidence has been presented of any Russian interference in the election; but it’s worth noting that this anti-Russia hysteria is intentionally conflating a series of vague possibilities to create a sinister feeling of infiltration, much as was done in the McCarthy era. At no point has Russia actually been accused of interfering in the electoral process, that is in the casting of votes, although journalists and politicians will frequently use phrasings that imply this. Nor do the “Russian ties” Trump and his people (a genuine cabinet of horrors) are accused ever turn out to be anything unusual. It’s entirely possible Trump has ties, alliances, friendships, even certain obligations to other plutocrats; but it is entirely clear, even without the extensive confirmation provided by the leaks (and reports detailing the activities of the Clinton Foundation), that the same is true of Clinton. Yet one suspects few liberal pundits would argue that Clinton’s close friendship with, for example, the former Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak, or her financial ties with various non-American donors to her foundation, should be taken as a sign of treason.

Even if it turned out that many of these accusations were true, they amount to very little in terms of electoral interference, and certainly cannot be used as an excuse for the rise of Trump. The Russian narrative is ultimately more notable as a post-election phenomenon than anything to do with the actual process of how Donald Trump assumed power.

Which brings us back to the first narrative, the one that blames the nebulous category of “white men” (generally taken to refer to the non-coastal poor) for Trump’s victory. This narrative frequently imagines a sudden surge of racist, sexist rednecks sweeping the country – a reflection not of reality, but of a profound fear of the masses of humanity common to liberal elites in many time periods, with obvious parallels in propaganda going as far back as the Roman Republic.

This narrative already falls apart under basic statistical analysis. Trump was, if anything, remarkably unpopular. He got fewer votes than previous Republican candidates, not more. He did not enjoy widespread support in the white working class. He did not enjoy widespread support anywhere, in fact. The most remarkable thing about his campaign was that Clinton did not manage to beat him. The narrative of a sudden surge neatly explains away the fact that Clinton acted as if the presidency belonged to her by virtue of birth, not even attempting to campaign in significant regions of the United States. It also explains away a more significant fact: the collapse of the Democratic vote, beginning with the profound disappointment that Obama’s presidency represented to the masses of Americans who voted for him on the basis of his anti-war, pro-worker rhetoric.

Clinton campaigned specifically as someone who would continue the very policies that had caused support for the Democratic party to collapse over the eight years prior to the election. It does not require a conspiracy theory to see how this could lead to defeat, even against an extremely weak candidate like Trump.

The term normalize is frequently used in discussions of Trump’s far-right and outright fascist associates. We are frequently told not to normalize the sudden presence of fascists and neo-Nazis in the media and in government. That request is certainly legitimate in some senses, in that such people were not long ago rightfully banished to the fringes of society. That individuals with such political views could hold power is extremely telling about the current situation. However, there is also a significant danger of treating cases like Trump as exceptional, when in fact they are not.

It is worth looking back at the Republican presidential primaries. Here several narratives quickly fall apart. Trump’s major opponents included Ben Carson and Ted Cruz: one African-American, the other Hispanic-American. In a country that had previously twice elected Barack Hussein Obama, the argument that Trump’s victory is based on “whiteness” is extremely unconvincing. But Trump’s supposed uniqueness is also a sham: both Carson and Cruz (despite being members of historically oppressed groups) hold extremely reactionary views comparable to those of Trump, or even more extreme in some ways (Carson believes in a literal reading of the Bible, while Cruz notably wanted to carpet bomb ISIS to find out whether “sand can glow in the dark”).

Trump, then, is not an aberration. He is simply the face of one half of America’s political system. (Clinton, meanwhile, surpassed Cruz with her terrifyingly psychopathic reaction to the brutal murder of Muammar Gaddafi: “We came, we saw, he died.”) Another individual in the same spot would not be terribly different.

A list of US presidents in the post-WWII era provides some insight into how the two-party system works:

  • Democrat
  • Republican
  • Democrat
  • Democrat
  • Republican
  • Republican
  • Democrat
  • Republican
  • Republican
  • Democrat
  • Republican
  • Democrat
  • Republican

This is not a system with a huge amount of variety. Power bounces back and forth; voter turnout tends to stay between 50 and 60 percent; landslide victories are extremely rare (even Kennedy, now the most popular President, beat Nixon only by 0.2%). When one group of voters is disappointed with their party, as happened with the Democrats in the Obama years, the other side wins. Neither party really has popular support.

So here is how Donald Trump became President of the United States.

The people who always vote Republican voted Republican, even though many of them didn’t even like Trump. Most of the people who always vote Democrat voted Democrat. Some of the people who voted for Obama because of the policies he promised didn’t vote for Clinton because she scoffed at those policies, instead supporting the actual policies Obama implemented, which had already lost the Democrats a huge amount of support. In the entirely normal ping-pong between parties that is characteristic of the two-party system, the ball went the other way.

It’s what has happened over and over for decades. It’s entirely ordinary.

What seems a lot less ordinary is the level to which the available candidates have sunk. Certainly when compared to the norms of the post-WWII political order, someone as crude and mad as Trump (or Cruz or Carson) appears unusual. On the Democratic side, too, the economic policies promoted by Clinton would have seemed very right-wing to a Democrat of fifty years ago, and the brag about Gaddafi’s murder would once have raised more than a few eyebrows. That time was longer ago than one might think (Madeleine Albright thought the deaths of 500.000 Iraqi children were “worth it” in 1996), and no ruling elite was ever innocent – but to a man like Dwight D. Eisenhower, it would be shocking to see both Republican and Democratic politicians openly boasting of their affiliation with and support for the military-industrial complex.

But this is still far from being a unique phenomenon. The moment you put the United States into a global context – something both American liberals and conservatives tend to very rarely do – the election of Donald Trump becomes part of an obvious pattern. Trump-like figures are on the rise everywhere, opposed by weak liberal entities that make vague noises about culturally progressive issues but steadfastly support brutal austerity and an imperialist foreign policy. In country after country, people are told they must support the centre-right candidate to prevent the far-right candidate from taking power; that “more of the same” is the only answer to what led us here in the first place. Unsurprisingly, this does not work very well.

This development itself is far from abnormal, however. It is, in fact, the entirely ordinary response of capitalism to a crisis it cannot overcome by other means: the creation of a pseudo-revolutionary movement aimed at the middle class, with support from the most backwards layers of the working class, bankrolled and run by capital, with the goal of removing all restrictions on itself and renewing capitalism through creative destruction, i.e. war. Liberal political entities are particularly bad at opposing this development because, while progressive at a social level, they support the same economic and therefore political logic. All they can offer, in the end, is the promise of a lesser evil.

It would be good, at this point, to remember that the German Social Democrats supported Hindenburg in 1932 with the purpose of preventing Hitler from coming to power; Hindenburg appointed Hitler chancellor in 1933. The lesser evil tends to lead straight to the greater evil.

If Trump and his ilk are to be effectively opposed, then, it must first be understood that they don’t represent an abnormality, a glitch in the system. They are the system, much like their liberal counterparts in the great ping-pong of doom. Picking sides is pointless when both sides are playing the same game. What must be opposed is the game itself, with its underlying rules that consistently produce such hateful entities.

Omegaland on Greenlight

So, there’s this game I’ve been making for freaking years. I actually started it before Ithaka of the Clouds/The Council of Crows was even an idea, and I’ve been working on it in the background ever since. This was never my main project, only something I switched to when I was exhausted from writing mushroom descriptions all day. But it’s done now, and I’d like to get in on Steam.

(I am back to writing mushroom descriptions all day now, or rather to trying to finish the wonderful monstrosity that is The Council of Crows. Finishing this helped me clear my mind after I’d reached an extreme level of burnout, and now I feel like I know what I’m doing again. I wish making games was easier.)

I don’t want to hype Omegland too much, because I really would like this to be a small, unassuming game, the kind you pick up because it’s cheap and looks like it might entertain you for a while, and then it turns out to be more fun than you expected. (I actually strongly considered releasing it anonymously, just so people would approach it without expecting anything, but ultimately that seemed excessive.) Not unlike the Lands of Dream games, really.

It’s very much inspired by classic platformers, particularly my beloved Super Mario Land 2, although it’s a little more relaxed. It doesn’t require an insane level of skill to enjoy, although it does have its challenges. Mainly I wanted it to be fun, to make you feel good, and to have a few surprises along the way. In many ways it’s the kind of game that I once would have made for Newgrounds, except a lot bigger.

I feel happy about this game. I’m fond of it, its silly world, its characters, its monsters. Making it let me get back to certain areas of design I hadn’t touched in a while. I approached it without thinking of anything except what I think is fun.

I have no major expectations, but it would be nice if it reached a few people. It would be extra nice if it helped us pay for the costs of marketing The Council of Crows when it’s done, because promoting the Lands of Dream games is hard and I’d like to get some help to do it better. Thus the whole Steam thing.

Anyway, all votes/retweets/shares/hugs are appreciated. I hope this will be the first of several long-term projects to be completed in 2017.

[Edit: I made some changes to the title and Patrick’s appearance, to distinguish him a bit more from a certain Italian. Patrick and Patricia are Irish, of course.]

Things Are Not OK

Once upon a time I was talking to an old German man.

“The government is blaming foreigners for everything,” he told me. “All these politicians, they’re completely corrupt! Taking money from corporations, doing whatever they’re told by the rich. They don’t care about ordinary people anymore. They don’t care about jobs or healthcare. They just line their pockets. And then they blame other countries for our problems, the problems they caused themselves. It’s not the fault of foreign people! They’re getting ripped off just like we are by their own politicians. It’s exactly the same. The politicians and the media are just trying to distract us from what’s being done to all of us.”

I nodded along.

“None of this would have been allowed,” he said, “under Hitler.”

“How can anyone vote for Trump? How can anyone poor or oppressed vote for Trump? How can women vote for Trump? Latinos? Black people?”

I’ve seen a lot of variations of that question being asked in tones of despair these last few months. And before I continue with my main point, let me note that pretty much nobody voted for Trump. There wasn’t a huge surge of support or anything like that. Mostly the people who vote Republican just voted Republican again. Most Americans don’t vote at all. To say that Trump is somehow representative of the majority of Americans is not just offensive, but downright silly. Clearly the majority of Americans care neither for Trump nor for Clinton. But let’s talk a bit about the people who did vote for him, who did have some kind of hope that Trump could “drain the swamp.”

Most ordinary people, particularly poor people, do not have a political education. I don’t say this with contempt. Where the hell are they supposed to get one? Schools certainly don’t teach anything even resembling meaningful political analysis; they don’t even provide the basic tools to help someone think about politics in a complex way. And what else is there? Newspapers? Television? We’re all aware of how terrible Fox News is, but are there alternatives? Look at the liberal side of the media right now, frothing at the mouth about evil Russians and exploding with outrage at Trump’s suggestion that the United States may have used shady methods to accomplish its goals in the past. (Incidentally, if you’re wondering why most of the world was terrified of the United States long before Trump, it may have something to do with a history of overthrowing democratically elected governments, invading countries, and assassinating those Americans who oppose such policies.)

Above all, the one concept that is truly taboo in all mainstream discourse is that of a material understanding of historical processes. Whether liberal or conservative, ideology is king, and the economic foundation of life must never be examined.

But the material, economic foundation of life is the one objective fact that everyone experiences. People work and their bosses prosper. Wages decline and bonuses soar. Banks get bailed out, people get kicked out. No matter what anyone wants to believe, this is what happens. This is the objective reality the majority of people experience. This is what they know with absolute certainty. The question is… what now? How do they react to this reality?

People are consistently and insistently told that they have two choices: liberal or conservative. This is true in most major capitalist countries; in the US, it takes the shape of the Democrats and the Republicans, two parties that pride themselves on their dedication to capitalism. No alternative to these two parties is permitted; even the suggestion is generally treated as heretical. (Even months after the election, liberal pundits are raging at the Green Party, although it demonstrably did not cause Clinton to lose the election. Their hate is so intense that even major journalists with millions of viewers will suggest that third-party candidates are actually Russian agents, the kind of position once associated with the lunatic fringe of the Republican Party ranting on talk radio.)

So, in the end, people are told that they must choose between two options or be considered fools or traitors. But what do these two options mean to them?

Let’s not think about what the policies of the two parties actually entail in the real world (the near-perfect continuity between the Bush and Obama administrations should say it all); let’s instead consider what people were offered in this last election. People tend to focus on the various details of what each candidate was speaking about, but I think it’s far more instructive to look at the overall direction of their message and its relation to the objective reality described above.

  • Trump campaigned on the promise to Make America Great Again. At its core, this message said that things are not OK. That’s the baseline. Things are not OK.
  • Clinton countered Trump’s claims with America Is Already Great. Unemployment, police violence, terrible healthcare, stagnating wages, constant war – but actually, things are OK.

Yes, Trump’s campaign was full of appeals to hate, whereas Clinton spoke about diversity and inclusiveness (though she does not really have a history of standing for these things). But the basic premise of Clinton’s campaign was a big fat lie, whereas Trump’s was a truth that is rarely acknowledged. That everything Trump built on that truth was sheer horror isn’t the point, because he started with something that reflected the reality people were experiencing. Even poor people, oppressed people. And with Clinton, it doesn’t matter that on average she probably would have been less horrible and destabilizing (although “we came, we saw, he died” will never not be the profoundly psychopathic statement of a war criminal), because the moment she told people that things were OK, they knew she was lying. Things are not OK. People know that.

So just look at the situation that the mainstream political forces have created. They don’t allow anyone to think in systemic terms, to question why capitalism is not producing widespread wealth as it once did (to some degree). They present them with a binary choice. One option says that everything should continue as it is. The other says that change is necessary.

That’s not why Trump won. But it is why many people who have absolutely nothing to gain from his presidency voted for him. Because they know – objectively – that the system isn’t working. They know it needs to break, to be shaken up, to change in some profound way. They lack the political education to understand how capital functions in times of crisis, but they know something needs to be done, and even inside the framework offered to them by the opposition (there are two capitalist parties and you must pick one), it makes sense for them to support the candidate who at least has the right premise. They don’t need to be racists or homophobes or misogynists. There are immigrants who are pro-Trump. Trump has gay supporters. Plenty of women voted for him. But just like many people held their noses and voted for Clinton, because although they disagreed with many of her policies (especially her strongly pro-war history), they thought she at least got some of the social basics right, plenty of people held their noses and voted for Trump, because at least he got the economic basics right.

Just to be clear, I’m not saying that Trump does actually represent anything anti-systemic. Of course he doesn’t. If anything, he’s a part of the plutocracy seeking to bypass the traditional managerial political class and seize direct control. But looking at the facts above, from the perspective of certain people, he may well have seemed like the lesser evil, or even like a tiny sliver of hope.

Speaking of hope, if you think of Obama, it’s not hard to understand Trump’s appeal. Obama’s first campaign really disproves the liberal narrative which depicts the majority of poor Americans as reactionary hicks. Obama, a black man with a foreign-sounding name, who campaigned on a pro-worker and anti-war message, drew an incredible amount of support and enthusiasm from all over the country (and beyond). That Obama, the Obama of Hope and Change, was what Americans really wanted. Not racism, not sexism, but someone who acknowledges the great problems that plague society and promises to do something about them.

They never got that Obama, of course, and so the enthusiasm waned. Some of it came back during the Sanders campaign, but he was pushed aside in favour of Clinton. But Clinton did not run as the Obama of Hope and Change, she ran as Realpolitik Obama. She ran as a proud representative of a system that has left the majority of people behind. It is not a coincidence that polls showed Sanders winning decisively against Trump. People want change.

Trump’s campaign, on an abstract but important level, resembled Obama’s campaign more than Clinton’s did.

If one thing is characteristic of mainstream liberalism worldwide, it is a rabid anticommunism. Inequality can only ever be condemned as insuffiently equal access to market forces; exploitation, in the sense of the appropriation of surplus value, cannot be questioned. The struggle can only be conceived as the effort to create a capitalism whose results are not distorted by prejudice, creating a ruling class that is as diverse as the general population. Capitalism is holy.

For decades, there has been a global liberal consensus, best expressed in Fukuyama’s idea of capitalism as the end of history. Now, as capitalism sinks deeper and deeper into a crisis it cannot recover from, more extreme forces are necessary to maintain the economic and political status quo. They are the exact same forces the system deployed last time a major crisis occured: various flavours of fascism and authoritarianism, ideal for suppressing dissent caused by inequality and perhaps even jump-starting capitalism through all-out war.

The bitter irony for those who value liberalism’s social values, which will be sacrificed to ensure the division of working-class people as the role of capital becomes more openly dictatorial, is that it is precisely liberalism’s dogmatic insistence that there is no alternative to its own brand of socially-acceptable capitalism that enables the rise of fascism.

On Punching Nazis

There’s been a lot of debate about the use of violence to oppose various manifestations of the far right lately. Both sides of the argument are frequently indignant. How can it be OK to punch anyone? How can it not be OK to punch a Nazi?

What’s missing from most of these debates, I think, is the distinction between the different ways in which political violence can be evaluated. The main two sources of confusion are two of the great dogmas of contemporary liberalism: “nothing is ever solved by violence” and “the personal is the political.”

The former, of course, has a long history, which is primarily defined by hypocrisy. The opposition to the use of violence to achieve political ends is only ever applied to those seeking to change the system. The most famous case is probably Martin Luther King Jr., praised widely by liberals for his commitment to nonviolence, then condemned as a traitor by the very same people for opposing the war in Vietnam. (Read some articles and statements from political leaders of the time, even from inside the Civil Rights Movement, and you’ll be shocked by the degree of venom directed at MLK over not differentiating between violence against Americans and violence against the Vietnamese.) Wars and police repression are necessary; protests and other forms of direct political action are destructive, divisive, unhelpful, and so on.

The influence of “the personal is the political” is perhaps equally insidious. By erasing the profound difference between individual and organized/collective action, it conflates lifestyle with politics, leading to the extremely dangerous delusion that the one can substitute for the other. It gives individuals the feeling that their personal behaviour, divorced from any greater movement, somehow amounts to meaningful political action. This encompasses everything from throwing rocks at cops to writing articles about how women having short hair is actually truly politically radical. It gets a response that makes the individual feel that they have transgressed, but changes nothing about the nature of the system.

If we rid ourselves of these two dogmas, we can look at the question with a little more complexity.

That political violence is useful, in the sense of being able to accomplish goals, is proven by history. From the defeat of fascism to the world-changing effects of the great revolutions, violence has played an intrinsic part in changing the political order; we live in a material world, where most conflicts have material roots, and naturally they also play out as conflicts between material bodies. That doesn’t mean that a political movement should choose to initiate violence, mind you; but no ruling class has ever given up its authority without employing violence against its opponents, and sometimes that means using violence in self-defense, even if it is deeply unpleasant, even if our goal is a world without such violence. Every modern democratic right we have, every freedom we cherish, was only made possible through the use of violence. That includes the violent overthrow of the feudal system by capitalists.

But acknowledging the power of political violence does not mean that all political violence is useful. We must distinguish between violence – and nonviolence – as ideology and as strategy. Those who embrace violence or nonviolence in ideological terms will frequently find themselves trapped. Nonviolence only works against an opponent who doesn’t have a problem just slaughtering you; violence has a huge array of side-effects and consequences that can easily derail a movement.

Therefore, it makes sense to consider violence in strategic terms. That means considering a specific situation and weighing the consequences of using violence as a political tool. For example, when various fascist types organize street gangs that attack immigrants and immigrant-owned establishments, violence can be immensely useful. Many lives have been saved by the political response of beating the living shit out of such people. Note, however, that this type of action – even when performed by anarchists – is usually organized. It’s a response to a situational assessment, followed by planning, executed collectively with a highly specific goal in mind. It may have negative consequences (lawsuits, negative media depiction) but it also has quantifiable, material positive consequences: shops saved, people protected.

Not all uses of political violence are effective. When the public perceives the violence as unnecessary – that is, the goals as unsound or simply not worthy of the damage caused – then it can turn even deeply oppressed people against the movement, strengthening the position of the police and allowing them to use more extreme tactics themselves. This is why the police employ provocateurs.

If your actions cannot be distinguished from those of police provocateurs, they are probably not politically useful.

We must here also distinguish between violence as employed by individuals or small groups and violence as employed by a mass movement of the people: this is the difference between a terrorist attack and a strike. The latter is a great collective action that represents the will and interest of an organized populace struggling against an oppressor; the former is an action taken without any consultation, without any support, in a way that isolates the acting individuals from the people and usually accomplishes little more than to tarnish the entire movement and give those in authority a good excuse to crack down.

Trotsky wrote the following in regards to individual terrorism:

A strike, even of modest size, has social consequences: strengthening of the workers’ self-confidence, growth of the trade union, and not infrequently even an improvement in productive technology. The murder of a factory owner produces effects of a police nature only, or a change of proprietors devoid of any social significance. Whether a terrorist attempt, even a ‘successful’ one throws the ruling class into confusion depends on the concrete political circumstances. In any case the confusion can only be shortlived; the capitalist state does not base itself on government ministers and cannot be eliminated with them. The classes it serves will always find new people; the mechanism remains intact and continues to function.

But the disarray introduced into the ranks of the working masses themselves by a terrorist attempt is much deeper. If it is enough to arm oneself with a pistol in order to achieve one’s goal, why the efforts of the class struggle? If a thimbleful of gunpowder and a little chunk of lead is enough to shoot the enemy through the neck, what need is there for a class organisation? If it makes sense to terrify highly placed personages with the roar of explosions, where is the need for the party? Why meetings, mass agitation and elections if one can so easily take aim at the ministerial bench from the gallery of parliament?

In our eyes, individual terror is inadmissible precisely because it belittles the role of the masses in their own consciousness, reconciles them to their powerlessness, and turns their eyes and hopes towards a great avenger and liberator who some day will come and accomplish his mission. The anarchist prophets of the ‘propaganda of the deed’ can argue all they want about the elevating and stimulating influence of terrorist acts on the masses. Theoretical considerations and political experience prove otherwise. The more ‘effective’ the terrorist acts, the greater their impact, the more they reduce the interest of the masses in self-organisation and self-education. But the smoke from the confusion clears away, the panic disappears, the successor of the murdered minister makes his appearance, life again settles into the old rut, the wheel of capitalist exploitation turns as before; only the police repression grows more savage and brazen. And as a result, in place of the kindled hopes and artificially aroused excitement comes disillusionment and apathy.

All of the above allows us to consider the political aspects of punching a Nazi. We may also consider the personal aspects, as long as we remember that these are entirely distinct.

A dedicated fascist of any kind is a vile human being and an enemy of the majority of humanity. Far worse than any royal who merely happens to have been born into an unfair system, a fascist is someone actively working to reverse all the progress our species has made. These are simply facts. How one responds to such a person is a matter of personal morality.

The pleasure many found recently in watching a Nazi get punched is an entirely positive, healthy sign. It’s not a sign of political understanding of any great depth, but it does tell us people’s hearts are in the right place. That does not mean, however, that those who find all individual violence truly abhorrent are wrong or would not support a greater struggle against fascism. As I said above, it is merely a matter of personal morality, and does not necessarily have political implications. It is only when someone actively seeks to support such an individual that we enter the political realm once more.

In any case, it is entirely too easy to get caught up in questions of individual punchworthiness. The vile Nazi who got punched in the face was certainly scum; but what is he compared to a liberal President who has killed tens of thousands of people with bombs, including citizens of his own country? Or a conservative President who has killed a million after using lies to illegally invade a country? What about this supporter, or that collaborator – and so on? Such debates inevitably become moralistic, missing the greater systemic issues at hand.

People often cite World War II when it comes to punching Nazis, but wars are not won by individuals punching Nazis in the face. They are won by armies. And revolutions are won by the organized masses of the people. Every great political transformation is won through power.

Is it OK to punch a Nazi? The answer to your question is ORGANIZE.

Deplorables

I’ve experienced racism as long as I can remember. As a small child in Greece, it was because I spoke German to my mother, so other children would mock me, screaming “Hitler! Hitler!” on the playground. As an adult living in Germany, it’s because I’m Greek, and Greeks are supposedly lazy and corrupt leeches. Racism and xenophobia have always been with me, and it’s not really gotten much better, especially with the economic crisis pushing all ideologies towards their extremes.

Now, with Brexit and Trump, I’ve seen a lot of people get very angry at the perceived “white working class” responsible for these things. That a lot of it actually comes from middle-class voters – and that non-white and non-male people also voted for these things – is a different issue; let’s stick with the racist underclasses for now.

I happen to know a lot of German working-class racists. I know even more who are so poor that they don’t qualify as working class, but as lumpenproletariat. I’ve heard them discuss their ideas, sometimes with me present. They think Greeks are crafty, greedy foreigners just looking to exploit honest, hard-working Germans. They think Greeks are lazy, living in luxury. They think Greeks work few hours, retire early, and get huge pensions. They think Greeks literally owe them money, which they are very angry about, because they are genuinely poor and struggling. They think Greeks should be punished for their crimes against Germany. The only thing they hate more than Greeks is those refugees, who are actually lying economic migrants, coming here to steal their jobs and rape their daughters.

“So, what, you want us to like these people? This is the working class you want to build socialism with?”

To answer your questions: 1) no 2) yes.

I mention my personal experiences – due to a sarcastic article I once wrote, this site still gets hits from people searching for “kill all Greeks” and meaning it – because these days the identity angle is frequently used to dismiss any solidarity with people whose voting habits we detest. But I’m not talking as a member of the “dominant majority” who has never experienced racism, I’m talking as a member of a group that has been relentlessly vilified by the system.

And that vilification is part of the reason. Where did those people who hate me so much get these ideas? Were they just born that way, genetically reactionary? Did they choose these ideas after long and careful consideration, so that we can say they truly represent their innermost beliefs? No, of course not. They are just bombarded with these ideas 24/7. Every tabloid is overflowing with that stuff. But where the tabloids are overt in their racism and perhaps easy to dismiss, others are much more subtle. On TV and in the fancier newspapers they might use the term “mit Migrationshintergrund” (with a background relating to migration), but it’s still a codeword for “filthy foreigners!” Government announcements deplore racism in one sentence while appealing to it in the next.

Perhaps more importantly, completely aside from tone, the “facts” that are presented, the reality that is constructed by both media and government, would logically lead you to believe horrible things about other people. The lies are so shameless and so pervasive that questioning makes you seem like a conspiracy theorist. During the EU-Greece negotiations, German politicians would come on TV and announce things that were literally the exact opposite of what had just happened. Angela Merkel and Wolfgang Schäuble have held long, condescending speeches about the Greek people describing a situation that is 100% false, contradicted by every single statistic produced by independent agencies. They lie right to people’s faces, and they do it so much that it seems like it must be the truth, because no-one would be so crazy as to repeat such nonsense over and over while millions of people are listening.

(Does that sound familiar? And yet these are the exact sort of serious technocrats that everyone wants to hand power to in order to avoid Brexit, and who we are told would have been so much better than Trump, because they know how to run the system. The only thing they know how to do better than Trump is sound coherent while lying.)

Now think of these working-class people – people who, I must remind you, personally hate me for being Greek – and consider how many chances they’ve had to be exposed to something else. Their education is minimal, their political education even less so. They certainly don’t teach anything politically useful in school, and some of them haven’t even finished school. They know how to use Facebook, but aren’t that familiar with the internet. The places where you are supposed to get “serious” information all spout versions of the same ideology. Meanwhile, their lives are constantly getting worse. Austerity in Germany is not what it is in Greece, but it’s nevertheless real. They struggle to get jobs, and when they do get them, they are terrible. They are constantly unsafe. They have little access to culture or anything uplifting. And the system is brilliantly calculated so that they stay just there, always surviving, never thriving, always available as a cheap workforce.

Sitting in a room with these people, hearing them talk about foreigners (like myself, unless I’m lucky; then I’m the exception, “not like the others”) is pretty disgusting. I have a temper when it comes to these things, so it’s a bit of a miracle I haven’t screamed at anyone.

But that’s a personal, emotional response. Those are all well and good, but they’re not the same as political analysis. Confusing the two is the basis of identity politics, and that’s part of why things have gone to shit as they have. The personal is not the political.

You may be familiar with a famous phrase from the last paragraph of the Communist Manifesto: “The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains.” Look at that phrase carefully. Nothing to lose. The basis of socialist thought isn’t that the working class is socially and spiritually better. The goal isn’t to uplift the people who somehow magically deserve it more than others, because they are more advanced, more progressive, more hip. The proletarians have nothing to lose because they have nothing. To be more precise: the foundation of socialist thought is the systemic relationship between workers and capital, in which workers are exploited to produce profit, resulting in their economic, cultural and spiritual immiseration.

Reactionary ideologies are the result of immiseration. They are the result of the atomization of society, of life lived under pressure and in competition. They are also a tool, a method employed by the system to preserve itself. The hate towards Greek people promoted by the German government doesn’t have social or cultural roots; it is a way of dividing the international working class, a way of preventing German and Greek workers from understanding that they are both being exploited, that both their governments represent the same economic interests. It’s not necessary for a politician to hate a group of people to promote hatred against them. It only needs to be politically useful. And when it is politically useful, either those politicians will go with it, or politicians with more useful beliefs will take over their positions. I’m not describing a conspiracy here; it’s just how the system works. In many ways, it’s impersonal.

Despite what we are taught in schools, being determines consciousness: material conditions, not personal philosophies, determine the rise and fall of ideologies. The goal of socialism is to break that cycle, to assert human control over the economy, rather than the other way around. But for that we need the working class.

Why? For one thing, because the working class comprises the large majority of people. In many ways, it is the people – it is humanity. For another, because of what makes it the working class: the term does not denote a cultural group, but an economic relationship to the means of production. That is significant in two ways. One is that the majority of people have common economic interests, from which a huge coalition can be built, which in turn has profound social and cultural implications. The other is that the working class represents the beating heart of the system. Capitalism cannot operate without the working class. We’re frequently told that this is no longer true, because a handful of programmers and designers and artists are making a lot of money, or because of the stock exchange, or even more laughably, because robots will be doing all our jobs by next year. But the truth is that the vast majority of work, the work that actually keeps civilization going, is done by people. And if those people banded together, having understood the nature of their exploitation, they could change everything.

None of this implies compromise with reactionary political movements. As both liberals and traditional conservatives are supporters of capitalism, there is a politically logical tendency for some people from both camps to normalize various far-right movements once those have gained enough power. In Greece there was an attempt to make Golden Dawn (a neonazi criminal organization responsible for multiple deaths) seem respectable; in Germany many will point out that Alternative für Deutschland (a thinly-disguised fascist party) “does have some valid points” about migration; in the US, many will say that “he is our President after all”; in the UK… actually, the UK is such a mess that it deserves a separate article. In any case, the point is that there are those who are willing to adopt the reactionary ideologies that the system requires to preserve itself in order to gain more power inside that system.

Such people should be opposed without mercy. As should those who, despite their class, become so deeply dedicated to destructive ideologies that they become enemies of the people. That’s tragic, but such people exist, and they will have to be defeated. A better world will have to be created for them in spite of them.

However, to actually win against these people will require far more than just the most socially progressive individuals expressing their collective contempt for the misled downtrodden. It will require an analysis of why people are misled, and that analysis must include not just ideology, but economics. And then, on the basis of understanding how material conditions affect the totality of human experience, as many people as possible must be shown where their common interests lie.

The majority of working-class people are not actually reactionary; statistics show that over and over, and the Bernie Sanders campaign recently showed it again. Sanders is not a socialist, and the Democratic Party will never represent anything except the ruling class, but the enthusiastic reaction in poor regions to a Jewish self-proclaimed socialist says a lot. But there is a part of the working class that has fallen prey to deeply reactionary beliefs. I am not asking you to like them. I don’t like them myself. They are not my friends. But they are my comrades – or they could be.

If you want to win, you need people, even people you don’t like. If you want to get those people on your side, you need to fight for them, even if you don’t want to sit at the same table with them. History shows that if you fight for them, they’ll realize you’re not the enemy, and they’ll fight for the common cause with the determination of people who have nothing to lose. It also shows what happens when you look down at them and dismiss them.

Solidarity does not require friendship, but change does require solidarity.

But What Does It Tell Us About Art?

In my early university days in Germany, I made the rather painful mistake of picking something called Theatre, Film and Media Studies as one of my majors. I was fully aware that this department only cared about the theoretical/academic side of things and wouldn’t teach us how to make movies or direct plays, but I was under the impression that it would at least be useful in terms of expanding my horizons and giving me interesting material to sink my teeth into.

The reality was more one of mind-numbing boredom as tedious quacks with a hatred of popular culture and an unhealthy obsession with the misanthropic works of Theodor Adorno expounded endlessly on topics that even a small child could both understand and dismiss as precious nonsense. One bit stood out, though: their ideas about subversive art, particularly in the theatre.

As the majority of students tried to keep their eyes open – the rest choosing to sleep under the tables – our distinguished professors explained that for art to be truly subversive and transgressive, it had to break with the conventions of the form. Look, they said as they showed us a recording of naked actors babbling incoherently, with no artistic intent or thematic cohesion, look at how this breaks the conventions! This will truly shock the audience into engaging in a whole new way! The boldness of putting a naked man on stage! The radicalism of retelling the story from a Freudian perspective! The subversiveness of projecting some piece of unrelated video over the actors as they spoke their lines backwards!

A few years later, a friend went to the theatre with his mother. He thought the performance was odd. “Did it involve a naked man and a projection?” I asked. “How the hell did you know that?” he said, genuinely surprised. “They all do,” I sighed.

They all did, and it had been that way for decades. And yet the academics persisted in making grandiose claims about disrupting a status quo that no longer existed, and artists kept producing plays that consisted of nothing but such “radical disruptions” of a dead format. Art, storytelling, vision – all these things had been excised from the process, along with popular audiences who enjoyed the work itself, the latter replaced with elite audiences who cared about being seen enjoying the work.

This wasn’t a failure of imagination, however, although it grew from one. It was a deliberate scam, a hostile takeover by hucksters and con men. Much like the purveyors of “modern art” who are entirely aware that what they do is a business designed to create money without effort, these artists and academics had no belief in what they did. Instead, it was a kind of scammer symbiosis: the academics legitimized the meaningless nonsense cooked up by bored writers and directors (following a pretty much identical “radical” formula), who in turn produced material for the academics to write unreadable, jargon-filled essays about. A system of empty-headed idiots producing nothing and glorifying themselves for it, largely funded by taxpayers.

It’s surprisingly easy to set up systems like that, and they exist all over the arts. What makes them so effective is their two-pronged method of attack: if the artists produced this work on their own, to be judged by audiences, they would never be half as successful. But the legitimacy provided by the academic half of the scam makes questioning the supposedly “radical” works much harder – just say that artists like Duchamp or Beuys or Hirst are scammers and see the immediate outrage this causes, even though plentiful evidence of their true intentions exists. And the more shameless they become in their scamming, the more they just sell you their unused trash (like Duchamp selling his bottle rack as art, perfectly aware that he was just scamming people), the more they don’t even do any of the work themselves, exploiting other artists to mass-produce their simulacrum of art, the more those who have built an entire artistic world on their backs will defend them – if only because there’s money involved.

All of this is supported by the most ingeniously shallow yet seemingly deep question ever asked: but what does it tell us about art? With this vague, fundamentally meaningless meta-question, the worst, most obviously ludicrous work can be raised to a status of great artistic significance. Is a toilet seat art? Is a bathtub art? What does this lump of fat tell us about art? No vision, no talent, no transcendence is required – this question allows anything to become art, and thus anything to become product, to become the subject of essays no-one will read and exhibits no-one will enjoy, which will nevertheless generate meaningful amounts of money for the scammers involved.

Perhaps the worst effect of this feedback loop of deception is that, from the outside, the field appears to be healthy. Works are being produced and written about. The “scene” seems lively, if hard to understand for the unwashed masses. But underneath all is rot. It’s not just a lack of new ideas – it’s a lack of anything at all.

If death was apparent, if the field seemed empty, something new might take root. But the shambling corpse – still profitable to some – keeps going, disconnected from the people, disconnected from reality. And where are new artists to turn?

So they get swallowed up by this purposeless machine, the more cynical amongst them richly rewarded for consciously signing up for the scam, but even those who aren’t cynical, who have vision and talent, pushed and pushed towards conformity. The pushing doesn’t even need to be obvious: artists are desperate for validation, and giving them that validation only when they produce works within the accepted framework will guide them towards performing as the system desires. Tell them that they are radicals, that their work is subversive, and they will feel so proud of themselves for fighting the good fight that they’ll keep digging their own graves, thinking that they’re opposing the status quo.

The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled wasn’t convincing the world he didn’t exist, it was rebranding himself as God.

Art does not exist in a vacuum; each of us builds on what came before. But art also does exist in a vacuum, creating something mysteriously unique out of entirely common elements, not only because of its context but in spite of it – much like life. When art is reduced to a reaction, to a relationship to its context, it is stripped of what actually makes it truly powerful – the creative spark, the paradoxical, visionary process that creates meaning and transcends the limitations of the human beings creating it.

When art is sold to you purely on terms of how it relates to its context – groundbreaking, radical, subversive, experimental, brave, etc. – beware of scammers. Great art is great art, no matter which human being creates it, no matter where or when its creation takes place, because the thing that matters about art is that it’s a window to something greater than time and space. Great art does not need to subvert some imaginary status quo; its very existence challenges everything.

Faith in Humanity

There’s a quote from the glossary at the end of Star Maker – a book so good that even its glossary is worth quoting at length – that came back to me today. I’ve mentioned it before, but hadn’t thought about it for a while. I believe that it encapsulates most clearly what the world so desperately needs.

Religion.

(a) In the mouths of Communists the word means a particular sort of capitalist dope, namely certain doctrines and practices calculated to withdraw attention from the need for revolution, and to fix it upon an unreal world of fantasy, thus relieving the ‘religious’ person from the moral responsibility of serving the revolution. Some readers may condemn this book as ‘religious’ in this pejorative sense.

(b) In another sense ‘religion’ includes all that is best in the emotional attitude of Communism itself, namely the resolute will to live devotedly in service of mankind. ‘Religion’ in this sense includes also a conviction that this will has in some manner not merely terrestrial but also cosmical significance. Further, it includes the feeling that even the will to fight in life’s battle against the forces of death should be complemented by an ultimate piety toward something superhuman, and even super-vital, a piety toward fate, or the whole of being, or some inconceivable deity. This attitude, so well expressed by Spinoza, is alien to contemporary Communism; but it is not to be confused with capitalist dope, for those who have felt it most strongly have been amongst the most active in the service of mankind. [emphasis mine]

The political situation we find ourselves in is deeply depressing. But it’s not the rise of fascism that is so dispiriting; it is the lack of a meaningful opposition. Once radicals like myself attacked liberalism for its hypocrisy, its inability to stay true to the lofty ideals it espoused. But now the entire Left, liberal and radical alike, has been infected by a rank misanthropy and a nasty, nihilistic individualism. There is no hope on offer, no better world to build, only a slightly different distribution of misery and a celebration of each individual’s eternal victimhood. Even many who consider themselves radical have embraced Thatcher’s credo: there is no such thing as society. There is no such thing as the people. There is no such thing as humanity. We’re told this is freedom, but what it is is despair.

Bringing back the idea of humanity, beating back the tide of adolescent pseudo-profound misanthropic notions about our species, seems to me the most important intellectual task of the age. No successful political movement aimed at changing the catastrophic status quo will be organized without it. Art will continue to wither without a deeper connection to our shared history, past and future. Even on an individual level, people will continue to sink into depression, cast adrift on an ocean of relentless solipsism.

We need humanity, and we need it urgently. We need faith in our abilities, faith rooted in knowledge of history and recognition of potential. We need a radical belief in the value of civilization; not something vague and polite, but a deep, committed belief in the human project, shorn of the banal world-weary nihilism we are taught to believe is pragmatic and wise.

And I think everyone who still believes in humanity has to fight for the resurrection of this belief, fight for it tooth and nail, until it claws itself back into the world.

It’ll be really, really hard. It’ll mean opposing people who think they’re morally superior, people who think their anti-human attitude is enlightened. It’ll mean being called naive, being laughed at, being lectured about Human Nature. Against all that and worse, it will be necessary to say, over and over, without irony, without self-aware defensiveness: I love humanity. I believe in humanity. I will fight for humanity.

You’ll hear me saying this again. And again. And again. You’ll hear me saying it until I’m dead, and then you’ll hear me saying it from the Lands of Dream. I will not relent and neither should you.

I love humanity. I believe in humanity. I will fight for humanity.

Consecutive Cat Catastrophe Clustercat

mort

So, cats.

If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you may be aware that a few weeks ago we found a tiny starving kitten that had been abandoned by its mother. Given our lack of time and money, our pre-existing cat condition, and all the millions of complications cats bring with them, it would be foolish to take him in… so of course we did it.

He was just so… tiny!

Well, he’s no longer quite as tiny, but he’s cute and playful and happy and, most of all, alive. The bad news: he can’t stay with us. The good news: we found someone who’ll take him. The crazy news: delivering him will be something of an odyssey. We’ll have to drive across an entire country.

You may also remember our own cat, Cat. She came home the other day with a hole in her leg that was so deep you could see the bone. That’s just a couple of months after almost literally getting her throat torn out by another cat. She’s certainly not helping dispel the stereotype of black cats bringing bad luck.

Well, combined with the whole freelance writer thing, and moving, and games taking forever to finish… some money would be nice. So, if you happen to have some and want to throw it our way, one way you could do it would be to buy The Sea Will Claim Everything and A Postcard From Afthonia on itch.io for just $5. The itch.io version of TSWCE comes with a Steam key and Afthonia has been updated to be less rough around the edges. That update will also be applied to the Humble version later today.

If you already have the game on Steam, why not give the key to a friend who might enjoy it, or an enemy who might hate it?

We have a properly new game coming out soon, though, so if you’d rather keep your money for that, no problem. It’ll be quite cheap, though, just so you know. No pressure.

We’re also looking into putting some of our free games on Steam, with the option of buying some extras to support the developer. I like that model, but Greenlight eats a lot of time, so I don’t know when that will be ready, since I’m also working full-time on other projects.

Anyway. Cats.

Art Is Not Politics

It has become fashionable to treat art as politics. The inclusion of millionaires of a certain gender or “race” in the latest corporate entertainment product is taken to signify an improvement in the conditions of people who share superficial traits with those individuals, even as nothing changes in their wages, pensions, rights, or healthcare situation. Raging against individual works of art, or even individual artists – particularly on the internet, to audiences already familiar with an in-group terminology designed for this purpose – is taken as part of the struggle for equality, or even the struggle against fascism, even as the continuing crises of capitalism result in destruction on an unprecedented scale.

There are a lot of dangerous delusions when it comes to the entanglement of the artistic and the political. Some of these are politically dangerous; others are intellectually dangerous. Debates tend to sink into confusion or become clashes between the sanctimonious and the reactionary, between those who see politics everywhere and those who don’t want to see them anywhere.

To understand the nature of the problem, we must begin by distinguishing between politics (that is, participation in the affairs of the polis) and the political (that is, subject matter thematically relating to politics). These are not one and the same, and their conflation leads to weak art and weaker politics.

The idea that “all art is political” certainly contains some truth. There is little doubt that art frequently reflects the beliefs of the artist – though this is itself too simplistic a statement, as we will see later. It can also be truthfully said that a great deal of art expresses at least some notions about what is right and what is wrong, even if only in the most tangential of ways. However, even the most intentionally political work of art is only thematically political. A work can be Marxist or feminist or libertarian or neoliberal in the ideas it contains, in the story it tells or the characters it depicts; but to call a work of art Marxist or feminist or libertarian or neoliberal is an academic/critical assessment. A novel being Marxist is not relevant to the practice of Marxism; it is relevant to literary theory.

It is greatly tempting for artists and critics to blur this line. It is tempting to think that one can fight for a better world through one’s art or even one’s criticism, safely from one’s home, without having to go through the effort of organizing people and fighting the system in a real-world, material sense. There are archetypes that it is easy to be drawn to: the political artist who has a sexy, semi-saintly glow of being engaged while simultaneously being above it all, or the victim artist, emerging from great difficulty to express their pain and speak for their community. Even the most crudely political art can draw a strong response, and all artists desire attention. The internet has certainly contributed to the intensity of this effect: with a whole lot of people calling you a defender of all that is good in the world, and a whole lot calling you the incarnation of all that is bad, it’s easy to feel you are doing something.

But what is actually taking place is the shifting of struggles from the actually political to the politically themed. This is catastrophic for actual politics, because a perceived victory in the arts is utterly meaningless in material terms. It gives artists and critics and their hangers-on a hollow, narcissistic satisfaction, but it also turns them into tools of a system that is only too happy to distract people from ther misery. It alienates artists, even poor and oppressed artists, from the concerns of the people. The hollow victories of a self-satisfied class of artists will mean little to those who have no food or shelter.

This conflation is also catastrophic for art itself, however. Reducing art to a political tool robs it of its potential for transcendence. Art is significant precisely because it has no purpose; it exists because we want it to, humanity reaching for something beyond the basic functions of biology; it doesn’t matter whether you call it grace, or the divine, or a manifestation of the human capacity to imagine, what matters is that art at its best transcends the world we live in (even if it always begins there) and moves us in ways we cannot easily explain. If that is lost, then what we are producing is not art; it’s advertising. Turning art into a political tool – even for “political self-expression” – denies artists precisely that most important ability of reaching beyond, including beyond themselves.

This effect, it should be noted, is particularly destructive for those artists who are perceived to be part of a minority or otherwise oppressed, as they are strongly encouraged to turn themselves into avatars of an identity, capable of creating only things related to that one topic. (This was painfully and accurately satirized by Drew Hayden Taylor in alterNatives, where the protagonist is always being pushed to write the Great Native Canadian Novel, but really just wants to write science fiction.)

Art is vision, and visions should not be blinkered. Art is a journey, and sometimes the artist should have no idea where they are going. That’s why not even politically themed art should necessarily be tied to the author’s personal beliefs – it’s always possible to produce a work of art that makes even its creator uncomfortable, and that’s part of why art matters. It’s not just self-expression. Art has the capacity to be universal expression; artists have the potential to channel something that feels entirely alien and external to themselves.

None of that is to say that art should not engage with the political. You can’t transcend anything if you don’t know where you are; art must be deeply rooted in historical context, in the ongoing life of the human species in this strange universe we inhabit. But artists must be humble. Transcendence, no matter how minor or brief, is already a pretty significant gift. It is not wise to delude ourselves into thinking that we can use that gift to escape our responsibility as citizens and as human beings. Our artistic struggles matter to us, and we must fight them with dedication – which includes allowing inspiration to take us where it wants to, and not trying to impose our ideologies on stories that don’t support them. We must not pretend that our personal struggles are the struggles of the world, or that our triumphs help others.

The struggle for wages, for jobs, for peace and security and progress, will not be won by artists. It will be won by people organizing, fighting for labour rights, seizing control of the machinery of the state. Yes, that’s scary – a lot scarier than writing or drawing or composing a radical work of art. It scares me too. But that’s where the struggle is, and we’re part of that struggle. So let’s face the truth, no matter how painful or humbling it is.