A webgl / glsl feedback machine, based on Andrew Benson’s ‘flow’ project.
In April of 1958, a 22 year-old Hunter S. Thompson wrote a letter on the meaning of life when asked by a friend for advice. What makes his response all the more profound is the fact that at the time, the world had no idea that he would become one of the most important writers of the 20th century. Therefore his beliefs about purpose were hypothetical—they were statements of faith.
But if it’s true that our beliefs really do become our reality, then there’s no better example of a life fully realised than the one of Hunter S. Thompson. Let his perspective inspire you:
April 22, 1958
57 Perry Street
New York City
You ask advice: ah, what a very human and very dangerous thing to do! For to give advice to a man who asks what to do with his life implies something very close to egomania. To presume to point a man to the right and ultimate goal — to point with a trembling finger in the RIGHT direction is something only a fool would take upon himself.
I am not a fool, but I respect your sincerity in asking my advice. I ask you though, in listening to what I say, to remember that all advice can only be a product of the man who gives it. What is truth to one may be disaster to another. I do not see life through your eyes, nor you through mine. If I were to attempt to give you specific advice, it would be too much like the blind leading the blind.
“To be, or not to be: that is the question: Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles … ” (Shakespeare)
And indeed, that IS the question: whether to float with the tide, or to swim for a goal. It is a choice we must all make consciously or unconsciously at one time in our lives. So few people understand this! Think of any decision you’ve ever made which had a bearing on your future: I may be wrong, but I don’t see how it could have been anything but a choice however indirect — between the two things I’ve mentioned: the floating or the swimming.
But why not float if you have no goal? That is another question. It is unquestionably better to enjoy the floating than to swim in uncertainty. So how does a man find a goal? Not a castle in the stars, but a real and tangible thing. How can a man be sure he’s not after the “big rock candy mountain,” the enticing sugar-candy goal that has little taste and no substance?
The answer — and, in a sense, the tragedy of life — is that we seek to understand the goal and not the man. We set up a goal which demands of us certain things: and we do these things. We adjust to the demands of a concept which CANNOT be valid. When you were young, let us say that you wanted to be a fireman. I feel reasonably safe in saying that you no longer want to be a fireman. Why? Because your perspective has changed. It’s not the fireman who has changed, but you. Every man is the sum total of his reactions to experience. As your experiences differ and multiply, you become a different man, and hence your perspective changes. This goes on and on. Every reaction is a learning process; every significant experience alters your perspective.
So it would seem foolish, would it not, to adjust our lives to the demands of a goal we see from a different angle every day? How could we ever hope to accomplish anything other than galloping neurosis?
The answer, then, must not deal with goals at all, or not with tangible goals, anyway. It would take reams of paper to develop this subject to fulfillment. God only knows how many books have been written on “the meaning of man” and that sort of thing, and god only knows how many people have pondered the subject. (I use the term “god only knows” purely as an expression.) There’s very little sense in my trying to give it up to you in the proverbial nutshell, because I’m the first to admit my absolute lack of qualifications for reducing the meaning of life to one or two paragraphs.
I’m going to steer clear of the word “existentialism,” but you might keep it in mind as a key of sorts. You might also try something called “Being and Nothingness” by Jean-Paul Sartre, and another little thing called “Existentialism: From Dostoyevsky to Sartre.” These are merely suggestions. If you’re genuinely satisfied with what you are and what you’re doing, then give those books a wide berth. (Let sleeping dogs lie.) But back to the answer. As I said, to put our faith in tangible goals would seem to be, at best, unwise. So we do not strive to be firemen, we do not strive to be bankers, nor policemen, nor doctors. WE STRIVE TO BE OURSELVES.
But don’t misunderstand me. I don’t mean that we can’t BE firemen, bankers, or doctors — but that we must make the goal conform to the individual, rather than make the individual conform to the goal. In every man, heredity and environment have combined to produce a creature of certain abilities and desires — including a deeply ingrained need to function in such a way that his life will be MEANINGFUL. A man has to BE something; he has to matter.
As I see it then, the formula runs something like this: a man must choose a path which will let his ABILITIES function at maximum efficiency toward the gratification of his DESIRES. In doing this, he is fulfilling a need (giving himself identity by functioning in a set pattern toward a set goal), he avoids frustrating his potential (choosing a path which puts no limit on his self-development), and he avoids the terror of seeing his goal wilt or lose its charm as he draws closer to it (rather than bending himself to meet the demands of that which he seeks, he has bent his goal to conform to his own abilities and desires).
In short, he has not dedicated his life to reaching a pre-defined goal, but he has rather chosen a way of life he KNOWS he will enjoy. The goal is absolutely secondary: it is the functioning toward the goal which is important. And it seems almost ridiculous to say that a man MUST function in a pattern of his own choosing; for to let another man define your own goals is to give up one of the most meaningful aspects of life — the definitive act of will which makes a man an individual.
Let’s assume that you think you have a choice of eight paths to follow (all pre-defined paths, of course). And let’s assume that you can’t see any real purpose in any of the eight. THEN — and here is the essence of all I’ve said — you MUST FIND A NINTH PATH.
Naturally, it isn’t as easy as it sounds. You’ve lived a relatively narrow life, a vertical rather than a horizontal existence. So it isn’t any too difficult to understand why you seem to feel the way you do. But a man who procrastinates in his CHOOSING will inevitably have his choice made for him by circumstance.
So if you now number yourself among the disenchanted, then you have no choice but to accept things as they are, or to seriously seek something else. But beware of looking for goals: look for a way of life. Decide how you want to live and then see what you can do to make a living WITHIN that way of life. But you say, “I don’t know where to look; I don’t know what to look for.”
And there’s the crux. Is it worth giving up what I have to look for something better? I don’t know — is it? Who can make that decision but you? But even by DECIDING TO LOOK, you go a long way toward making the choice.
If I don’t call this to a halt, I’m going to find myself writing a book. I hope it’s not as confusing as it looks at first glance. Keep in mind, of course, that this is MY WAY of looking at things. I happen to think that it’s pretty generally applicable, but you may not. Each of us has to create our own credo — this merely happens to be mine.
If any part of it doesn’t seem to make sense, by all means call it to my attention. I’m not trying to send you out “on the road” in search of Valhalla, but merely pointing out that it is not necessary to accept the choices handed down to you by life as you know it. There is more to it than that — no one HAS to do something he doesn’t want to do for the rest of his life. But then again, if that’s what you wind up doing, by all means convince yourself that you HAD to do it. You’ll have lots of company.
And that’s it for now. Until I hear from you again, I remain,
Beatwife - Fluskins
The protesters in Ferguson aren’t irrational or apolitical. They are calling attention to their basic, unmet needs.
Over the weekend, police in Ferguson, Missouri murdered Michael Brown, a black teenager. While details are still trickling in, it’s clear that during a confrontation with a squad car a block away from his grandmother’s house, an officer shot and killed the unarmed teen in the middle of the street. Witnesses say Brown was running away from the policeman and had his hands in the air just before the officer shot him.
Ferguson is a city with a large concentration of poor blacks under the control of overwhelmingly white institutions. The killing immediately struck a nerve. Rallies and protests erupted as people took to the streets — eventually culminating in a riot. Crowds went from holding candle light vigils at the site of Brown’s death to burning down a number of businesses and lighting molotov cocktails during confrontations with police. How did we get here?
Far from a mindless, violent mob, the people of Ferguson were engaged in concerted political consciousness-raising leading up to the insurrection. A video taken at the scene shows a number of political
agitators talking with the crowd, converting momentary outrage into political unity. One speaker in particular, a young black male, offers a cogent political analysis that frames the injustice of police brutality as a byproduct of the community’s economic dislocation.
We keep giving these crackers our money, staying in they complexes, and we can’t get no justice. No respect. They ready to put you out [if you] miss a bill … You got to be fed up.
Riots, like other forms of political action, can build solidarity. They can create strong feelings of common identity. The outrage in Ferguson quickly attracted marginalized people throughout the region. Rather than evidence of illegitimacy, the presence of these “outsiders” reflected the magnetic power of the political moment.
From the outset, the anti-police police rallies that preceded the riots had a clear “us versus them” dynamic. At one point during the rally, the woman holding the camera says, “Where the thugs at? Where the street tribes when we need y’all?” and the crowd then begins to call on various street gangs to abandon “black-on-black” violence and unite in struggle against oppression. The community was unified and ready to take action. The police were the problem, and they had to be stopped.
The crowd was not irrational and apolitical. They were attempting to use this opportunity to address their broader political needs. They knew that intraracial violence within the community was also an issue, and that in most cases the perpetrators of violence are the communities’ own children, cousins, friends, and neighbors. Though many claim that black people don’t care about violence within our communities, the crowd’s calls for gang unity demonstrate that anti-police uprisings provide unique opportunities to unite people in ways that seek to resolve long-term issues like gang violence.
Following the insurrection, participants continued to discuss the uprising in political terms. DeAndre Smith, who was present at the burned down QuikTrip, told the local news, “I believe that they’re too much worried about what’s going on to their stores and their commerce and everything. They’re not worried about the murder.” A second man added, “I just think what happened was necessary, to show the police that they don’t run everything.” Smith then concludes, “I don’t think they did enough.”
In a second interview, this time with Kim Bell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Smith expanded on his belief in the riot as a viable political strategy.
This is exactly what’s supposed to happen when an injustice is happening in your community … I was out here with the community, that’s all I can say … I don’t think it’s over, honestly. I think they just got a case of what fighting back means, in St. Louis, the last state to abolish slavery. Do they think they still have power over certain things? I believe so.
This is how they receive money: businesses and taxes, police stopping people and giving them tickets, taking them to court, locking them up — this is how they make money in St. Louis. Everything is all about money in St. Louis. So when you stop their flow of income they have things organized in a certain way … ‘we’re gonna eat, you’re gonna starve,’ gentrification — put you in a certain neighborhood by yourself and see if you can starve … It’s not going to happen, not in St. Louis.
Smith identifies what so many self-styled anti-racists and leftists fail to understand — that racism is not an issue of moral character. He recognizes that the broader economic order facilitates and benefits from racial subjugation, and so he’s looking for ways to intervene and disrupt that process. Not only is this a more substantive analysis than what is often offered on the Left, but acting on this analysis is the only way to eradicate entrenched racial hierarchy.
Typically, when events like the Ferguson rebellion occur, well-meaning people rush to condemn the participants. At a minimum, they dismiss rioting as unproductive and opportunistic — a few bad apples spoiling the bunch. This is precisely the attitude that Deandre Smith was criticizing in his first interview. Most detractors, some of whom are black themselves, seek to police these communities with “respectability politics” — a call for subjugated people to present themselves in ways that are acceptable to the dominant class in an effort to make political gains.
As the political scientist Frederick Harris wrote in an article this year:
What started as a philosophy promulgated by black elites to ‘uplift the race’ by correcting the ‘bad’ traits of the black poor has now evolved into one of the hallmarks of black politics in the age of Obama, a governing philosophy that centers on managing the behavior of black people left behind in a society touted as being full of opportunity.
But the politics of respectability has been portrayed as an emancipatory strategy to the neglect of discussions about structural forces that hinder the mobility of the black poor and working class.
Whereas riots are often galvanizing community events with the potential to unleash concerted political energy in dynamic and unpredictable directions, the stale politics of respectability only leads to further marginalization and dislocation. Now, it’s possible to disagree with the utility of insurrection. But these communities’ responses to subjugation must be discussed in political terms and not simply dismissed out of hand.
We live in a context of white supremacy and neoliberal capitalism, where race-neutral policies are being used to maintain class exploitation and racial hierarchy, and any overt attempts to address racism are being dismantled or disregarded. These policies only intensify the economic dislocation and poverty experienced by those at the margins.
What both the local news interviewees and the crowd at the scene of Brown’s death seemed to understand was that they needed to disrupt the interplay between racial subjugation and capitalism. They felt that a march or some other acceptable form of benign indignation would not address their political needs — and they weren’t wrong.
Many of us rush to condemn these types of disruptions because we’re actually content with neoliberalism’s post-racial illusion. At the burned down QuikTrip, someone left a sign addressed to their “corporate neighbor,” in the hopes that the business would return: “Dear Corporate Neighbor, I am sorry this act of robbery & violence has happened. Please return soon. I stop in 2-3 time[s] per week.”
On the surface, addressing the effects of rioting is an important political issue. By framing themselves as a customer in need of their “corporate neighbor,” it’s possible that this person is acting not out of concern for the working people that lost their jobs — their actual neighbors — but from the fear that their shopping routine will be disturbed. Like Deandre Smith observed, we identify more strongly with broken windows than broken people.
From the Boston Tea Party to Shays’ Rebellion, riots made America, for better or worse. In the past, white rioters have had access to institutional power, which allowed some of their grievances to be legitimized and politically resolved, at least to extent possible in a capitalist society. The key for the Ferguson uprising, as with any unsustainable political moment, is to transition outrage and disruption into constructive political organization. Easier said than done — but it’s a better reaction than dismissing the riots and only making it more difficult for the people to accomplish this herculean task.
Malcolm X reminds us that media is a key instrument of subjugation because it determines which acts are respectable and which are extreme and thus illegitimate. Instead of following that familiar script, let’s push back against narratives about rioters being devoid of politics. Let’s find ways to honestly observe and discuss their political needs, rather than simply criticizing the nature of their response to social violence.
The “first man-made biological leaf” could enable humans to colonise space
RCA graduate Julian Melchiorri says the synthetic biological leaf he developed, which absorbs water and carbon dioxide to produce oxygen just like a plant, could enable long-distance space travel.