Oh…

I

“Compared with the man who has tradition on his side and needs no reasons for his actions, the free spirit is always weak, especially in his actions. For he knows too many motives and standpoints, and is therefore uncertain, awkward. By what means, then, can he be made relatively strong, so that he can at least assert himself effectively and not perish, having acted ineffectually? How does a strong spirit come into being? In one particular case, this is the question of how the genius is engendered. Where does the energy come from, the unbending strength, the endurance, with which one person, against all tradition, endeavors to acquire a quite individual understanding of the world?” (Human, All to Human, #230)

“Loneliness.” A perpetual problem for me. Always will feel a little lonely, I realized. Think about my development:

Parents divorce early, am passed from parent to parent: the early pressures to create my own stability.

End up living with my mom. Abuse. Drug use. Prostitution. Moving houses constantly. A boyfriend carousel. Raising my sisters myself. Raising myself. Protecting my sisters from abuse. I latch onto the fundamentalist Christian dogma of our church to create stability. I obsessively read the Bible and outline theological systems. Mom told me I was a prophet, a culty subgroup of the church encourages this. Youth pastor teaches my class we are “Joel’s Army of God,” meant to lead a spiritual army in the apocalypse and make the way for the second coming of Christ.

At 15, mom hangs herself. My half-brother, six-years-old, finds her. My sisters and I were away with our grandparents. Drive down for the funeral, 4 hours to gather our stuff and say goodbye to our life. A day-long drive from Alabama to New York to live with our dad. Half-brother stays in Alabama to live with his dad. Neither of us really know our fathers.

My dad already started another family. A wife and two daughters, Americana everywhere, very involved in the church: a perfect family that three wounded motherless children were about to seriously fuck up. Dad deployed to Iraq —- still no father figure — leaving my stepmother there to raise us. She’s young, barely equipped for the kids she already has, almost left my dad already because of the pressures. She has anger issues. Triggers memories of mom’s abuse. Also, don’t really want to deal with another mother figure. I reject her. No father, no mother. Obsess over children’s literature about orphans.

Try to find stability in the Bible but it was already on its way out by that point. Once got mad at God for not stopping my mom’s abuse like I prayed for. Decided to ask Satan instead. Stole a spellbook from the Goodwill and tried to practice black magic on my mother. Didn’t work, and she beat the hell out of me when she found I was dabbling in witchcraft. People don’t easily believe in God after stuff like that, but I was a prophet, right? A few months after mom’s death, you could still see me on the edge of my bed rationalizing, pouring through theological explanation after theological explanation for this or that doctrinal contradiction, until, finally, for a moment, I considered the possibility that maybe I didn’t believe in God. Boom. Worldview gone.

I dabble in ideology after ideology, religion after religion, scientific theory after scientific theory, just moving down the bookshelf in the library. Librarians become my mentors.

Military restations the family from NY to NC. Dad deployed again and again. Fights between me and my stepmother worsen. I leave to live with my grandfather for a summer, then aunt and uncle for what was supposed to be the rest of high school. Again, uncle constantly working, aunt has anger issues. Absent “father,” overpresent “mother.” Occupy happens, and I am radicalized into a kind of postmodernist anarchism that rejects the modern world. I obsess over The New Inquiry, CrimethInc, David Graeber. Librarians are still my mentor, school the only place I really like to be. Write poems about my childhood, and embark on a long writing experiment where I just write and write and write with no punctuation and no editing just whatever comes to mind no rules about changing topics might even change them midsen

Grandmother finds this experiment, is absolutely appalled by it, shares it with the whole family and some of the school. It reveals the extent of my mother’s abuse and the fucked up shit that happened in her house. I feel naked and exposed, and betrayed.

I run away. It’s the pivotal moment, when I solidify my identity as an orphan. I think of all the ways to get food, where to sleep, how to hitchhike out of town. I realize I could do it. After all, I thought, I’d been raising myself the whole time anyway. Still I was scared of being hunted by police. So I went to the school, realized it was a Sunday, and slept in an 18-wheeler filled with hay outside the Piggly Wiggly. Went to school the next day, was arrested at the front of the school and escorted to a psych ward. Aunt had told them I wanted to commit suicide, because she didn’t want me back at the house.

Few days in the ward, returned to my Aunt’s house because they didn’t really understand why I was there. “He’s fine,” they said. Finished out the school year, never really speaking outside of school, reading, reading, reading. Then was transferred to my grandmother’s. Miserable last year of high school. Didn’t know anyone or have the motivation to. Took solace in the library and made best friends with the librarian. Got a fast-food job and bought two computers. Set up a local network so I could use one to hack into the other. Learned all about Linux and computer operating systems. Got the administrative password to my school computers, and bragged to my school librarian about the hack. She, of course, had to tell the administration. Almost got expelled, but instead the principal, who seemed more impressed than anything, told me he wouldn’t tell my parents or expel me, but I had to do two things: watch War Games, and work with the school IT department. The seeds of my information science major.

Graduation was approaching. Saved up money from my job to buy a backpack and camping gear, knowing that I would be homeless. Intended on going to help with a humanitarian organization, No More Deaths. Instead followed my ex-boyfriend and best friend to UNC-Chapel Hill. There were some anarchists there who made the news during Occupy, and I wanted to find them. Found them, helped the community a lot, read Industrial Society and Its Future, got accepted into the university… and we end up at the beginning of the story I’ve already told you.

II

“That meditating on things human, all to human (or, as the learned phrase goes, “psychological observation”) is one of the means by which man can ease life’s burden; that by exercising this art, one can secure presence of mind in difficult situations and entertainment amid boring surroundings; indeed, that from the thorniest and unhappiest phases of one’s own life one can pluck maxims and feel a bit better thereby…” (Human, All to Human, #35)

Okay, okay. Rough life. Told the story a million times before. But never really “got it.” Always felt distanced from the story somehow, laughed at the shocked faces and brushed it off. At work the other day, boss asks me a little about childhood. Same routine at first: just a chronological list of mostly tragedies, in near monotone, almost from memorization. But then, when my boss said “wow,” I didn’t laugh at the reaction like I’ve done before. Instead I realized, for the first time, just how fucked up it all was. I nearly burst into tears, pushed them down for the sake of work. A day and a half passes until last night, when I meditated a bit.

Clearly, I thought, I’m missing something. My view of my self and my works and my relationships to other people is … off somehow. I think of a bunch of odd interactions that I’ve been cataloguing in my head for this moment. And those tears at work — this must have something to do with childhood

I explore the thesis a little. After a little bit, everything clicks all at once. I sob for hours about it until I’m too exhausted to keep at it. Felt like an LSD trip.

III

“In one’s heart of hearts: not knowing where to go. Emptiness. The attempt to surmount it by means of intoxication. …To be alive to the many little pleasures of, e.g., seeking knowledge. Modesty toward oneself. A reticence to generalize about oneself, to the point of pathos. …(1) As a result, weakness of will. (2) A felt contrast between extreme pride on the one hand, and the humiliation of petty weakness on the other.” (The Will to Power, #29)

Despite a mess of a childhood, I turned out pretty stable. Good manners, and at least the capacity to make a lot of friends. Did very well at two of my four high schools, and okay at the other two. Excelled at university, at least in regards to the social life. Normally, people like me end up dealing with more severe psychological problems than I seem to have, or turn to drugs, or crime, etc. What saved me, I think, were books and librarians.

Whatever the reason, I ended up doing some pretty awesome stuff so far. I’ve hitchhiked through huge parts of the U.S. I learned an enormous amount about anarchist, hippie, and fundamentalist Christian subcultures. I produced good intellectual work at university, with guidance, of course, but under mostly my own direction.

Still, over the past few months I’ve found myself floundering. At first I felt overwhelmingly self-important, superior, etc., but all that crashed. Then I had an overwhelming sense of paranoia, as though I was in the Truman show, an experience I had a lot when I was younger. I felt as though people saw me as a joke. I suddenly saw my writings as trash. I couldn’t relate to anyone.

Applying my very own theories of human nature and human development to my life fixed all this, suddenly, in one of those big “oh…” moments I’ve mentioned before (“On My Ignorance and Isolation“). This shit is obvious, but sometimes you get stuck in your head, you know?

IV

“The time is coming when we shall have to pay for having been Christians for two thousand years; we have lost the essential thing on which our lives depend; for a long while we will not know what to do with ourselves. We are rushing headlong towards the opposite values, with the same amount of energy with which we have been Christians…” (The Will to Power, #30).

At university I would tell my friends that I was pretty sure I had just replaced my Christianity with my eco-anarchist ideology. That’s a vulgar way of putting it, it’s not quite on the dot, but it touches on an important point: my relationship to eco-anarchist ideology is the way it is because of certain psychological needs that were installed when I was younger. I’m a prophet, right? And since I don’t trust the outside world for my stability, I overcompensate by (over)developing a worldview. I drop out of society with nothing but a backpack because I have too much faith that the worldview is the only stability I need. I am suspicious and distrustful of the outside world so I spend most of my time reading and writing.

Now, it just so happens that a large portion of my current worldview is correct. And, because I stumbled into ideas that are only just now becoming culturally relevant, or will be soon, I have an opportunity to ride a huge wave and really influence the impending discussion. For example, Kaczynski is back in the popular consciousness, a sympathetic Netflix series already made, and another one on the way. I know about the other one because I received an email requesting an interview for it. That never would have happened had I not trusted my conviction that Ted was right, and creating this website with all the associated works. Still more cultural moments are near: a resurgence of anti-globalization movements, a resurgence of environmentalism, the rising dominance of the rewilding strategy in conservation, more development on my ideas on human / culture interactions (“biocultural materialism”), more discussions about the drawbacks of technological society… I say in my early propaganda for “UNC Freedom Club” that “those who value wildness must act now if they want to have a voice in the impending conversation.” Almost no one listened, yet still I acted, and now I have an opportunity to have a voice. The question is whether or not I can sort out my own issues before I ruin that opportunity or let it pass me by.

V

“Weakness of will can be a misleading metaphor, for there is no will, consequently there are neither strong nor weak wills. The multiplicity of the impulses and their disarray, the want of system in their relationships with one another, is what results in a ‘weak will’; their coordination, under the hegemony of a single impulse, results in a ‘strong will’: in the first case vacillation and a lack of emphasis, in the second, precision and a clear direction.” (The Will to Power, #46)

Many people in Chapel Hill realize this, because they knew me when I was the bombastic university student pulling a number of pranks to draw attention to my ideas: I siphoned all the emails from the university registry into my email list; I advocated for Trump’s election in a hyper-liberal town because “he would disrupt the world economy”; I publicly tripped on LSD all the time; I associated my image with eco-terrorists in Mexico; and then, mostly to spread the ideas in my book, I dropped out of college.

So the paranoia can just be put aside. Clearly not everyone in Chapel Hill knows me, but a lot of people are gonna remember stuff like that. And isn’t that what I wanted, for people to pay attention to my ideas? I’ve got the audience now. People are watching. It’s time to prove it: Ted was right.

I will say that I still struggle with this point in particular. I do not think I am very suited for media attention. I do not really want to be well-known. I sometimes feel like a circus attraction. “Oh look, that’s the guy who wrote the Unabomber, hitchhiked across the U.S., etc…” People don’t realize that a lot of people have done these things and things like them. If you admire it, you can fucking do it. There are people out there who live in the forest and no longer use language, and they have children. Do what you will, the possibilities are endless!

Because of this uneasy relationship with spectacle, I think I’m probably going to focus instead on building a small core of readers who can take these ideas into the world themselves. “Raise the individual” (“Organization“). A sort of fisher of men. I’ll deny any more media requests. I’ll figure out how to be comfortable in relative isolation. I’ll study, study, study and take breaks to commune with nature. Eventually I will write a eulogy for my internet persona, and I’ll move on to different means of possessing others with that eternal Wild Will. A sort of reverse exorcist.

VI

This whole by-myself-orphan-identity thing has got to be dialed down a bit. It’s been hard for me to see it, because your memories of your childhood are really memories produced by a much younger you. At 16 I really did think that I had essentially raised myself, and I’ve never really questioned that assumption. But clearly I got a lot of support and help along the way. In particular, though my dad was physically absent, it was his finances that paid for therapy. Most of it, I would argue, was useless, but the last therapist has influenced me profoundly. Without that therapist I probably wouldn’t be able to sort out these problems like I am. And without my dad I would have never had that therapist.

And so on. No quote from Nietzsche here, since he tends to ignore this part of the equation.

VII

“Among the unanswered questions which I raise anew is the question of civilization… Man becomes more profound, more distrustful, more ‘immoral,’ stronger, more self-confident — and therefore ‘more natural‘ — that is ‘progress.’ In so doing, by a sort of division of labour, the more barbaric strata and the milder and tamer strata become separated, so that the general fact escapes notice…. It is in the nature of strength, and of the self-control and fascination exercised by the strong, that these stronger strata possess the gift of making others take their barbarization for a kind of superiority. For every step of ‘progress’ includes a reinterpretation of the strengthened elements as ‘good’…” (The Will to Power, #123)

On the other hand, I clearly have done an enormous amount of self-directing in my life. My unstable life has given me an enormous number of influences to draw from, but also leaves me with the task of synthesizing them myself. That’s been true since birth, really.

My inability to realize the consequences of this has caused some problems. Things I see as obvious are not necessarily going to be obvious to almost anyone else I know at any given moment. For example, I got frustrated with my roommate’s mother for bringing in extra silverware, when we only had four of each kind of silverware. It was obvious to me that you should avoid any unnecessary material possessions. But to most people that seems pretty extreme. That baseline difference in assumptions is going to be something I deal with my entire life. It’s essentially the problem with living a life dislodged from tradition: you form your own values and then struggle to relate to everyone else.

VIII

“Man must have the courage of his natural impulses restored to him. He must hold himself in higher esteem (not as an individual but as nature …). …Problem of civilization posed. Progress towards ‘naturalness‘: all political questions … are questions of power — only after asking ‘what can be done?’ may one ask ‘what ought to be done?'” (The Will to Power, #124)

Finally, I’ve got to be very, very careful about the various radical political solutions I advocate. There’s a difference between rebuking civilization because of self-hatred and rebuking civilization because of a careful, reasoned argument. As stated above, my relationship to my worldview is clearly a result of a set of psychological needs cultivated in my childhood. Some of these are unhealthy, and should be counteracted or repaired. Others are a sort of bittersweet gift. Others are inevitable. Regardless, I need to work hard to make sure that my reason for advocating, for example, a revolution against technological society is not just internal angst, but is a conclusion drawn after only the most earnest consideration.

 

“It is still a long way from this morbid isolation, from the desert of these experimental years, to that enormous, overflowing certainty and health which cannot do without even illness itself…; to that mature freedom of the spirit which is fully as much self-mastery and discipline of the heart, and which permits paths to many opposing ways of thought. It is a long way to the inner spaciousness and cosseting of a superabundance which precludes the danger that the spirit might lose itself on its own paths and fall in love and stay put, intoxicated, in some nook; a long way to that excess of vivid healing, reproducing, reviving powers, the very sign of great health, an excess that gives the free spirit the dangerous privilege of being permitted to live experimentally and to offer himself to adventure: the privilege of the master free spirit.” (Human, All too Human, #4)

1 Comment

  • Rick says:

    John, you’ve matured quite a bit. Not that I thought you were immature or anything like that. But you know what I mean!

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