This is a Spring 2005 conversation between Hakim Bey (pseudonym for scholar/poet Peter Lamborn Wilson) and Sasha Miltsov posted online…
Hakim Bey:…automobiles used to look quite beautiful, some of them. Now, even the cars of the very rich – you can hardly tell them from the cars of the bourgeoisie. They’re all the same boring, puffy-looking cars: No flare, no aerodynamics, no daring art deco. What is a modern “Bugatti”? It’s nothing. Even the Arab sheiks don’t dare to have beautiful cars like before. Why? Nobody knows how to make them? What’s the big deal?
Of course, it’s all just cars. It’s all just disgusting shit, but within that bad technology, which started so nice…
Alexandre Miltsov:It’s just getting worse and worse.
AM:Nowadays, they do “retromobiles”. They take a “Chrysler” like it used to be 50-60 years ago and rebuild it with all the modern gadgets. It looks even more repulsive.
HB:It’s just post-modernism. It’s not good or new design.
AM:What still amazes me in America, even though I’ve lived in Canada for five years, is this tremendous amount of cars everywhere. Public transportation is basically dead. And, as we know, it has been maliciously removed.
HB: It is true. It’sabsolutely true. I don’t own a car – it’s not because I am so virtuous but rather because of circumstances. But I’m glad I don’t own a car – many times when I think about that – it’s horrible. At least I’m not adding to that particular misery. But if I didn’t go into other people’s cars – I would never get anywhere, except on a few rare bus stops.
AM:Since we’re talking about cars, what do you think about the projected “World Oil Peak”? It’s not a big secret that there is no real substitute for oil to run the existing gigantic world-industry. There’s a countless list of things running on and demanding oil; cars, of course, are on the top. So what do you think about oil depletion and all that?
HB:What a lot of people would say, primarily the “techno-optimists”, is that when the oil runs out – the other technologies will become economically feasible. So, they will have to run all the cars on hydrogen, or salad oil, or sunshine. But we will still have cars. It’s a horrible thought but they may be right. They may solve the problem.
AM: But most probably it’s not going to happen that way. There are no real alternatives. There’s not enough sunshine to power all these cars,there’s not enough salad oil – I mean you need to grow crops to get it – a lot of it! And almost all the good land is already in use. It has been paved over by these gigantic roads – you have Eisenhower Interstate Highway system here. And the so-called “hydrogen economy” is a myth, of course.
HB: That’s right. I’m just saying that we ought to think about all this from the “techno-fix” point of view. So far, they’ve always come up with something. History leads us to believe that they’ll figure something out. At least, we have to take it into consideration. After all, they have all the money in the world to spend on the most brilliant scientists and technologists.
But it seems that they’re not preparing. And that’s the interesting part. They’re acting as if there’s no tomorrow: they don’t think like American Indians or the Chinese for seven generations – they think for seven minutes. If you’re lucky – 15 minutes! That makes you think that there won’t be any smooth transition, brokered by the usual technological and capitalistic bla-bla. And maybe some crisis will occur, some fracture in this happy story. Should we hope for that or should we be incredibly afraid because of that? It’s hard to say. Anything short of the complete breakdown of civilization – nothing is working anymore – it’s going to be war, plague, horrible. Or can you still believe in a situation where the proponents of “the alternatives” have seized power in time to prevent it from happening? Can we really talk about “seizing power” in a context like that?
AM: Well, yes and no. “Power” is so obscure these days. I mean, “seizing” what? A TV or a radio-station?
HB: Yes, and you can have 2 billion dollars and think that you can change the world, and there’s nothing, no effect at all. Nothing seems to work.
AM: There is a popular and rather naïve belief that when the whole system, the Spectacle, will start to run out of energy – oil, gas and other resources – it will gradually loosen its grip on people’s minds and throats. The Media may still be there, the Capital will be there but they will be weak and disintegrated, and so society will inevitably break down into small autonomous collectives, not controlledby the outside world.
HB: Well, the attitudes are changing but the problem is – and now I can speak about the situation here locally – since I have been living here for 6-7 years, I have some insights – and that is that these attitudes are informed by reformism. They are not informed by a critique of capitalism or even of technology. The Green Party is a good example; basically, it’s a hobby group for losers. Here, by strange circumstances, we have a Green Party village government. I am still glad for that, I guess, but so far they haven’t accomplished anything here, except for some symbolic stuff. And the reason for this, I think, is that people of this reformist tendency are not really interested in building real alternative institutions.
For example, this movement is not taking place through labor unions, or food-cooperatives, or producers-cooperatives; it’s not taking place through free schools or alternative schools. It’s not taking place through autonomous action!
Look at the organic food situation: the big companies have already discovered that the organic food is a market and they’re in it, they’re marketing it. And for most of the consumers of organic food this is not a political issue. It’s a health issue. So they don’t care; if Monsanto is going to sell them health food – they’ll buy it from Monsanto. In other words, these nice impulses, these changing attitudes – some of which are forced on people by economic difficulties, as you pointed out, and some of which are voluntary, assumed out of a lifestyle or even out of consumerist attitude towards the “authentic” and the “organic” and the “alternative”, which after all is a market – it all runs into the sand, all the energy runs into the sand.
People with wonderful attitudes and desires that are good desires; but since there is no comprehensive movement, there’s nothing other than these “positive attitudes” and there’s no way to focus them.
I went to a Peace March yesterday – it was the anniversary of the beginning of the war in Iraq. I swear it was like being back in the 60s again: same clothes, same slogans:
“- What do we want?
– When do we want it?
We’ve been saying this for 40 years and we still haven’t realized that symbolic action and symbolic discourse is NOT Action!
And this is even better: there was a counter-demonstration, and the anti-demonstrators were yelling at us that we were communists! This is like a civil war reenactment; it’s like people in medieval costumes pretending to be knights and ladies. Totally bizarre. I haven’t been going to demonstrations lately, so I thought maybe a few things have changed. But no! It’s just “a blast from the past” – for everybody, including the fascists who thought that they were still living in 1979. Very strange.
And this is it! You go, you have a march, you say: “Not in my name!” And then you go home and watch TV. You don’t then go out and start an alternative institution: a church, a farm, a commune…
AM: A pleasure club.
HB: Or even a pleasure club! Instead, they just go home and watch TV.
AM: And then they go to work and get their salaries from the same people who are waging the war. And the taxes go to war, of course.
HB: Exactly! And of course, you NEED your SUV; you NEED your cellular phone. These are real needs. So all these so-called “green people” around here are sucking up gasoline and cement… Just “not in my backyard” – that’s what they say. They are not going to swear off using cement. They will say: “Move the cement plant to Mexico”. I can’t participate in this pseudo-politics; there is no entry-point for me here.
AM: Back to the “Peace March”: the Iraq war looks like it is going to last long. We don’t really know what’s happening there; there are all sorts of media, mainstream and alternative, producing all sorts of “news” and speculations. But who in his or her sane mind will trust them? They are the media after all. The notion I have is that it’s going to be a big, long and ugly war for the last remnants of oil and for the control of the Gulf region. What do you think?
HB: I think you’re right or you might as well be right. We might as well plan on what you’ve just said; because it would be foolish to think that they’re going to stop just because we don’t like it. They’ve already proved that it’s not going to happen.
Let me try to be an “anti-pessimist” here and point out that if you are right, and I think you are, this will also involve a continuation of this unbelievable deficit spending and going into debt that we are practicing here in the US, both on the personal and the national level. And it must eventually lead to an economic collapse, as far as I can see. For one thing, Europe is going to be driven a little bit further to the left by anti-Americanism, so you will get more things like the mayor of Paris or the Spanish government happening -kind of nostalgic social-democratic, but still no longer interested in playing the global game with America as the sole superpower.
In fact, the whole ten years of globalism and neo-liberalism are already over. We are at a new stage now. That is why the anti-globalist movement suddenly seems so dead and irrelevant.
Going further with the scenario: A couple of other major things can happen, like China shifting its economic activities from the dollar to the euro and OPEC is, of course, practically out, and so forth.
So America is isolated economically: we don’t produce anything here anymore – we can’t be self-sufficient in terms of industry. We don’t make shoes here; we don’t make umbrellas, pencils. We make entertainment and information. We don’t even make the fucking computers! We produce the ideas that occupy the computers. That’s why artists are so important right now – it’s one of the few things that we actually produce. So the arts are hot, some artists are successful – this whole area around here is full of artists, and they drove the real estate prices up. So, now you can’t move into this county for less then 250,000 dollars. Thanks to the artists! You wonder why people get angry at artists – it’s not our fault – we’re just looking for low rent but the real-estate developers are following us, sniffing our butts wherever we go to find out where the next beautiful cheap real-estate is going to be…
So on with the scenario: in 1984 if somebody had asked “would the Soviet Union break up”, everybody would go “ha-ha-ha” – nonsense; it will never happen! In 1984, if people asked whether the United Kingdom would break up, if Scotland would be independent again – “Oho-ho-ho! – This would be a joke!” Just 20 years ago, it would be a total joke. Well, it happened – and to Yugoslavia too. So, it could happen here. Things move so quickly. It’s possible that with the neo-liberal period already over, we’re now into something new –
the American Empire, and maybe that will only last for 8 years -10 years.
That’s why recently I have taken an interest in the idea of separatism and secession. Because, I think that the only optimistic or anti-pessimistic way of reading the American future is to see the breakup of the American Empire, meaning a political breakup, just like in the USSR. And, as you know very well, this is a mixed blessing – to put it mildly. But there is one advantage to it, and that is that you get a small social unit that you can deal with – maybe, if you’re lucky.
It can very well happen in America, and people have already started to talk about it. I’m writing articles trying to push that idea. If I’m wrong – I’ll be wrong. To me it’s just a tactic, because from an anarchist point of view, secession is good because you get a smaller unit to deal with and eventually – this is straight Proudhon – you will break it down into autonomous regions, and then you confederate them in an anarcho-federalist union, completely voluntarily and based on popular democracy with revocable delegates. And as he put, it is necessary to organize for production and if necessary defense. This is an anarchist ideal, and secession could be a step towards it. As we know, it can also end up in a fascist nightmare. This is a dangerous idea, I admit, but I don’t see any other interesting political possibility for America.