Consider Virginity

This story appeared, modified, in the Gauntlet on February 6th, 2014. 

Consider, for the following moment, what it means to lose one’s virginity. For some, considering virginity means recalling a pleasant moment, wherein a romantic interest blossomed out of an idyllic and simple time into the beginnings of one’s sexual life. For others, the boundary of virginity has not yet been crossed, and anxiety and ambivalence can be the common sexual state of mind.

Virginity can be seen as a special thing to be maintained. Perhaps sex is entirely unappealing despite the pressures to buy into the sexual game. Yet for many others virginity conjures up memories of worry and fear, perhaps physical, emotional or mental pain and anguish.

Whether one’s earliest sexual experiences were negative, positive, non-existent or somewhere else in the sphere, most of us are made profoundly uncomfortable by openly discussing virginity.


Photo by Michael Grondin

I must admit that I too initially withdrew from this topic, knowing that opening such a door would put me and my sexuality in a vulnerable position. After all, a topic such as virginity touches upon very personal and often sensitive issues. For this reason, I insist upon taking a thorough and meaningful look into what we mean by virginity and its comings and goings.

Considering virginity provides us with an intimate gateway into the intricacies of sexuality. And now, more than ever, do we require such a gateway. Never before have people been so bombarded by images, ideas and ideals of sexuality. Never before have people faced such disorienting and possibly damaging sexual forces through the Internet or commercialism. Never before has sexuality been so thoroughly tied to politics, economics and our collective experience.

Considering virginity and how we relate to it forces us to be vulnerable. But, if we truly wish to grow, and see our passions and desires flow free from the restraints of the media’s shackles — overturning the unspoken traumas that lurk behind every door— then we must confront the issue at its heart. We must go beyond the current understanding of virginity into new and exciting realms where sexuality exists in its heartiest and fullest form.

The traditional description of the so-called loss of virginity is, to its credit, fairly straightforward: the first time that a penis finds itself in a vagina, or the first time a vagina finds itself with a penis in it.

While this description may seem simple and broad enough to constitute the boundaries of virginity, we would be doing all sexual peoples a massive disservice by accepting that description as fully encompassing and accurate.

The first and most clear problem with the traditional description is its hetero-normativity. That is to say, the description is inherently biased towards a heterosexual picture of sexuality. A gay person who has never been with a partner of the opposite sex, but has been with someone of the same sex is considered, under the traditional description, still a virgin.
Transgender, gender ambiguous or hermaphroditic people are also left in a confused and difficult situation if our explanation of virginity is grounded entirely in traditional ideas of mere genitals. It should seem obvious that calling said alternative-sexual types to still be virgins is a painful and incorrect understanding.

The hetero-normative aspects of the traditional description of virginity are made even more apparent when we consider the historical underpinnings of virginity in women. As psychoanalyst Amanda Hon pointed out, “Historically, the hymen has been widely regarded as the ‘anatomical representative of virginity,’ although its existence is conjectural. Virginity has been written about as a physical state long before the hymen was ever discussed in medical literature.”

That is to say, the physical loss of virginity was patriarchally decided upon first, then proved with the hymen’s so-called discovery. And yet, even when the problems of the traditional description is laid out before us, rather than engaging their imaginations, many attempt to simply reform the traditional description, or add enough caveats for it to operate successfully.

Such reformers attempt to expand the traditional definition into a scale of sexual activity: once one has achieved or performed a certain level or certain number of sexual acts they then cross the boundary out of virginity. While this reform of the description may be inclusive enough for most members of the sexually active population, it still leaves us short on too many levels.

First of all, it still leaves us with a description that favours penetration as a marker, since on any scale of sexual activity, penetration remains the easiest point on the scale at which to draw the line.

Take, for example, recent research that analyzed the teen magazine Seventeen, as mentioned by Amanda Hon, wherein girls’ loss of virginity was, “defined as occurring when they have intercourse, while in boys there was some flexibility, allowing them to choose whether to base their virginity status on their achievement of orgasm rather than penile penetration of a vagina.”

This sexual double standard reconfirms a heterosexual, male and phallic bias that leaves all non-straight, non-male-identifying people with penetration as their only option for defining virginity.

It almost feels silly to point out that penetration is not the end-all-be-all of sexual activity, and yet such thinking all too often underpins sexual assumptions.

The take-home point, it must be stressed, is that all attempts to create a definition of virginity using carnal descriptors inevitably reveals itself to contain some element that ends up being discriminatory or limiting. This point is made all the more real when we consider situations of sexual abuse. If a person’s first major sexual experience was one of rape, do we still maintain that that person is no longer a virgin? After all, they’ve “gone all the way” at that point, even though it was not their choice to do so.

Yet, our intuitions should be telling us that something in our understanding of virginity is wrong if it leaves the sexually abused and mistreated in the dust, if it leaves us with that sinister virgin-whore dichotomy, if it leaves us in the trash-bin of modern hyper-sexualization. If we hope to maintain any understanding of virginity that cruxes on physical lines, we will be drawn back in to problematic and limiting understandings of virginity.

We need to re-envision virginity to move past these limitations. We must therefore turn to desire, to consent, to passion, to seduction and to dignity which will arouse in us a fuller awareness of virginity and sexuality.

First and foremost, we must drop the whole “losing” or “loss” part of the equation. Virginity is often something special — that cannot be doubted. But, for most of us, virginity has an endpoint that, if we are being sexually respectful of ourselves and others, occurs when it ought to occur, free from the pressures and hold-ups of the oversexualized consumerist game around us.

By calling it a loss we inadvertently buy into the fetishizing of virginity, and miss out on what can be gained on both sides of this supposed virgin/non-virgin divide.

Genuine virginity, then, ends where genuine sexuality begins: at the moment in our lives where, as contemporary philosopher Wolfi Landstreicher put it, we “truly allow the expansiveness of passionate intensity to flower and to pursue it where the twisting vine of desire takes it.” That is to say, virginity is ours to decide.

If my passions, abilities and desires dictate that a certain set of experiences is what constitutes the end of my virginity, then that is that. If my partner has chosen a different set of conditions then that is their choice.

What is more important is that we open up the field of discussion of what each of us expects from the other in sexual interactions. The meaning of virginity and sexuality is a personal decision, and an autonomous understanding of need and desire.

We must realize that, as Slavoj Žižek put it, “True freedom is not a freedom of choice made from a safe distance, like choosing between a strawberry cake or a chocolate cake; true freedom overlaps with necessity, one makes a truly free choice when one’s choice puts at stake one’s very existence — one does it because one simply ‘cannot do it otherwise.’ ”

That is to say, our choosing of meaning must not be treated like any average choice one would make while shopping. It is a choice that matters deeply and must be treated as such. One must consider what virginity means to them, since if one does not then social forces and pressures make the decision for better or worse (with a likely tendency towards to latter).

The definition of virginity must not be a closed ordeal. There is no other way to transcend the demands of hyper-sexual modernity, since the sexuality of our present day doesn’t respect our personal trajectories or passions, but instead dictates what it means to be sexual. And, as has been shown, that present-day sexuality is far too often damaging, non-inclusive, reductionist, consumerist, sexist and not in the interests of liberatory attitudes.

Virginity must remain fluid and interactive as to be able to respectfully include the many requests that each person’s sexuality asks of it. Rather than having our understanding of virginity ask us to conform to certain discriminatory and damaging norms, our understanding of virginity must ask of us, as Martha Nussbaum once asked, “What is each person able to do and to be?”

But it must be remembered that such an alternative vision of virginity can only come about if we decide to adopt the struggle for a radical, collective and authentic sexuality. We must decide to shed the sexual anxieties and frustrations that modern hyper-sexualization has burdened us with. We must decide what constitutes or constituted the end of our virginity and where, and how, and why our sexuality has its beginning. We must decide what is or is not meaningful within the many twists and turns of the erotic.

So I ask you again, to consider virginity. Consider what virginity is in the here and now. But most importantly, consider what virginity can be.

Watching Wall Street burn

 This article appeared in the Gauntlet on September 20, 2012.

It was late Saturday night in Black Rock City, Nevada — site of the infamously intense Burning Man festival. As I relished in the comedown of another acid trip, I stood witness to the burning of “Wall Street,” which stood as five full-sized buildings, ironically beautiful representatives of capitalism’s financial vanguard: corporate banks. The fire that engulfed them was immense in size, ferocity and brightness, reducing the structures to smoldering coals atop the desert dust. Raw joy and satisfaction bubbled throughout my entire being, and then, as we gathered around the remaining ashes, a peaceful stillness set in.

While the entire week of Burning Man left me with countless thoughts each to be pondered in their own right, the question of the significance of Wall Street’s burning continued to linger as one of the heaviest issues. I wondered if anyone beyond the several thousand ‘burners,’ huddled together in a dusty corner of the desert, would be tripped-out by such a politically-charged artistic act. I wondered if anyone beyond we burners could care, or even ought to care. Yet surely such an intense act could not leave our hearts untouched, nor could it be ignored by mass media or those in power.

Courtesy Tim Vargas

However, when it came time to bring sage words to the question of the significance of mock Wall Street’s burning, I was initially silent, all my thoughts had become still, just as I had been as I stood before the buildings’ ashes. But, as it turns out, that is the point. That is the significance. A fire, incomparable to any other, occurred before me and I basked in its brilliance — neither thought nor action (and especially not words) were necessary. My eyes were open, as was my heart.

For those who have had the opportunity to immerse themselves in sport, there is a moment when thought and action unite, the distinction between them melts and performance becomes singular. Being ‘in the zone,’ as it were. I receive a pass, take a shot and score — neither thought nor action guided me, as it was mindless, a moment of ‘oneness.’ Our radicality, our dream of a better world, needs this same sensation of oneness.

The burning of mock Wall Street, the significance that can be drawn from it, lies in that ‘zone’ of which I speak. The fire was a figurative and literal melting of theory and practice. Practice informed theory, like the brilliance to construct and enact a mock burning of Wall Street. And theory emerged from practice, just as the flames that leapt out of Wall Street’s windows ignited a fire in our hearts and inspires us with new ideas and dreams, while also giving us the space to construct something new atop the ashes.

For those of us who dream of a better world — those of us who know a better world is possible — the burning of mock Wall Street is an incredible gift. Moving forward, my radicality is informed by the sensation of the becoming one with thought and action, of theory and practice, just like the stillness I felt in the face of the flames. That is to say, we are hopeless without theory and hopeless without action, but when the two meet and melt together — an occasion only feasible through the stillness born in opening our hearts, which sometimes takes a fire for us to feel — then our adventures, encounters and experiments begin, in their own right and on their own terms, to create a better world upon the ashes of the old.

Age of no consent

This column appeared in The Gauntlet on March 22, 2012

You have never had consensual sex. The sex you have now is not consensual, nor will you ever have consensual sex so long as you continue to live as you do. Rape, sexual abuse and assault are merely the tip of a sexually violent iceberg. Given the direness of our present circumstances — the inherent barbarism of the social, economic, political, religious, academic and cultural corrals into which we are captured and contained — it is fair to claim that it is impossible for anyone to adequately consent to sexual activity in the present. And what’s most sinister is that we’ve been ‘educated’ to think that all is well. While it may seem harsh or absurd to think that a statement that echoes of the obscene charge that “all sex is rape” could be legitimate, to deny it suggests that one is suffering from a terrible case of false consciousness. We have become numb, no longer capable of feeling the flow of sinister authority that permeates the fabric of our lives. We are incapable of making autonomous and well-informed decisions, incapable of being in touch with ourselves and our own sexualities. We’ve been normalized to sexual violence and the vital force of our erotic passions has been drained, leaving the substance of genuine consent unobtainable.

The issues of consent cut a wide swath of possible discussions in all sorts of fields of interest, but none of them evokes as furious and emotionally infused reactions as the issue of sexual consent does. Clearly we are pressing on sensitive tissue. Dare I say that our nerves are so frayed perhaps because we, at heart, understand that something integral is lacking in our sexualities? That sexuality’s intimate core is missing, or has been stolen? Do we not sense that some grave and grievous injustice is being done in every porn film, night club, brothel, fatherly household or kangaroo rape trial? Yet we don’t face up to this reality, perhaps because we know that the rot exists not only on the periphery — in the porn flicks, whorehouses and violent rapes — but that its roots extend through the entirety of the whole, the bulk of matter, and into our very beds. Must I remind you that most sexual assaults and rapes are perpetrated by friends, family or acquaintances — and if we are finally being honest with ourselves and one another, even when we, men and women the same, tell ourselves that our sexual activity is mutually and genuinely consensual, we are refining our skills of disavowal. The behemoth that is our way of life is thoroughly infected. The laws, the language, the imagery — everything our senses can be imbued with, even one another, has been infused with patriarchy’s dominating, savage values. The same system that allows spliced and splayed ‘women’ to be devoured also liquidates our capacity to make well-informed judgements and to understand and appreciate our own sexualities. We live under the same roof, and eat the same stale, mouldy bread as the whore and rapist do.

We grudgingly accept the old cliche “sex sells,” not because we understand it as ‘truth,’ but because we aren’t allowed to believe anything else. Sex is pleasurable, erotic desire animates our lives; but that doesn’t justify the sort of logic that packages our passions into marketable, measurable and manageable hedons. Even if a seemingly innocuous phrase like “sex sells” contained a nugget of truth (although I don’t know how it would), it has been used against us, inoculating us from birth with a false sense that the hyper-sexualization of our world is an inevitable consequence of ‘human nature,’ of Homo economicus. Or worse, we tell ourselves that sexual violence is an exception, perpetrated by perverts. But we know better. We can do better. The bastions of patriarchy are far from being inevitable consequences of ‘the way things are.’ Walls do fall, whether through lack of upkeep, nature’s wrath or by our own hands. But rather than waiting for the situation to improve or placing our hopes on reform (which, lest we forget, only buries the problem deeper) we ought to take sexual and erotic freedom, and the revolutionary struggle necessary to achieve it, seriously. We must, as Wolfi Landstreicher told us, “ . . . truly allow the expansiveness of passionate intensity to flower and to pursue it where the twisting vine of desire takes it.”

No one wants to admit that their sex life is not and never has been consensual. But there is nothing fantastical and utopian about believing that it is possible to form new ways of life where we congregate with one another as autonomous equals, adequately informed and genuinely in touch with ourselves. Bringing to fruition the way we ought to live — where loving and erotic relationships of infinite variety are legitimately possible — requires overturning and annihilating the destructive order at hand, adopting struggle as a way of life, passionately and incessantly dreaming and doing. Accepting sex’s current non-consensual nature is a bitter pill to swallow, but perhaps it is just the right medicine to cure us of our sexual woes.

Curve appeal

This article appeared in the Gauntlet on March 15, 2012

Females everywhere, rejoice! The cultural arbiters have loosened the shackles and chains, allowing a little more body mass to fit into fashion’s cuffs. Curves and full-figures may finally be welcome in the hallowed halls of fashion, health and beauty. But there are a few conditions: don’t get too curvy, and you damn well better be pretty.

All too often we construct our ideal selves along the lines of the superficial imagery with which we are inundated daily. And while many of us will be somewhat familiar with the inoculating role held by media and advertising — their powerful effect on people’s self-images — far too few of us understand that things can and ought to be different. It pains me to point out the gross problem surrounding the inclusion of ‘full-figured’ models into the fold. Most of us understand that the ‘normal’ from which curvy models are categorized as ‘plus-sized’ (“full-figured,” “extended-sized,” “outsized” or “curvy” as the labels go) is a sick valuation. And yet we find this barbie-look logic and its stigmatizing language around every corner. The emaciated and contorted women splayed out in every film and advertisement are quite far from any serious measure of normalcy. So while it is certainly comforting to finally see a few women with slightly more realistic bodies being showcased, the language and symbols that capture them (and us along with it) do nothing for conceptions of beauty and self-worth, and do nothing to limit the proliferation of rape culture that infects the fabric of society.

From the point of view of the system in which we live it, makes sense to impose the demands of fashion and beauty upon us. As fashion ever changes, so too must our wardrobes. As the stringent demands of beauty and health weigh down upon us, so too must we continue to push our bodies and budgets to their limits. I need not even mention the abhorrent effect that the demands of fashion and beauty have on our psychology and self-worth — after all, we all know more than a few people suffering from eating disorders, performance anxieties, mental body distortions and related varieties of depression. With the expectation on us to achieve the ‘look’ — the toned, well-groomed and well-dressed body, the ‘technologies of the self,’ as it were — we spend our time in gyms, malls and salons. Such pursuits have the appearance of improvement or betterment, but their primary effect is to distract us from the far more important task of genuine personal growth. There is little money to be made off of moral development, as the more one grows and refines the strength of their own presence, the less reliant one is on the exchange of commodities and the systems of submission. Plus-sized doesn’t let any of us off the hook from the system’s coercions, nor does it open up the sufficient space for resistance to its demands, it just tricks us into thinking that something is being done to make the system better.

With the disfigured bodies of both men and women on the cover of every magazine, in every advertisement and in every film, I can sympathize with those who feel hopelessly distressed by the crushing dissonance between appearance and reality. Yet we all have the capacity to shake off the shackles that call our healthy sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers and friends overweight. The inclusion of curvy is, despite our best wishes, not a real start to constructive dialogue. We ought not lay down our guns, nor take our fingers off the trigger. Thinking that plus-sized models are an acceptable start to a genuine metric of health is as disappointing as saying that hate literature and harlequin romances are positive for literacy on the grounds that they get people reading. While the trappings of fashion and beauty’s discourses are certainly immense, creeping into every conceivable corner of our daily experience, the more we develop and learn — enhance ourselves, not our looks — the more we begin to see the possibilities of genuine possibilities. Too much is still at stake for us to consider this change as being anything more than a small skirmish in a brutal war of attrition fought over the meaning of health and well-being.

Against disingenuous community

This column appeared in the Gauntlet on March 8, 2012

Constantly in our ears like cheap linguistic currency is the word ‘community,’ as if each of us instinctively understands the merit of its ceaselessly repeated use, as if each of us are still intimate members, comrades, brothers and sisters of one meaningful togetherness or another. It is the intensity, the vibrancy of life, the density of presence and thought that gives genuine community its critical identity. But, to adapt a phrase from the Invisible Committee: community has everywhere already disappeared.

Continuous effort is made to sell us on the idea that the problems we face in our era — the decay of social and environmental fabrics — stems from an estrangement from communities, as if we accidentally decided to leave them behind once upon a time, and that we ought to pay heed to the various calls for a new coming together. Posted on every telephone pole, newsletter and cafe message board are posters and pamphlets begging us to assemble and reintegrate into this or that community. Are we to accept this call to community without haste? Is community actually a source of meaning or value? No, it is not. Community has become false consciousness in a world long liquidated of all vital forms — genuine community has been replaced with sanitized and homogenized relationships and norms. By accepting the vapid buzzword community we co-opt ourselves into the operations of the organs and apparatuses of domination, into a logic of submission.

Perhaps you consider yourself a member of an authentic community: you and your group share common goals, common language and common values. Perhaps you even see community as being outside of, or subversive to the violent and reductive organs and apparatuses that regulate the fabric of our lives. But none of these associations so calmly dubbed community contains the raw density of life’s vital essence: the heart of genuine community. Even the Occupy movement, which in many ways has been an effort to reestablish genuine community, is under constant threat of having its heart purged of the life-sustaining fluids. Just as porn mutates sexuality into violent obscenity, so too does ‘community’ render genuine forms of the vibrancy of life into disturbing obscenity, making it, as Jean Baudrillard would say, “immediately proffered for view . . . for devouring.”

Accepting the present form of community means, at best, acting out a pseudo-struggle, and at worst, harbouring a complacency to the frameworks and discourses that label, categorize, rape, pillage, reduce, package, market and sell. Furthermore, the boundless growth of different forms of community does not open up the space for authenticity. Rather, it directly corresponds to, as Agamben put it, the boundless growth of apparatuses, the extreme proliferation in the processes of proliferation, in which we living beings are incessantly captured. New types of community does not mean the formation of new freedoms, since that same newness is synonymous with the bulldozing finance-speak of ‘emerging markets.’

It is no longer enough (was it ever enough?) to turn on Pete Seeger’s rendition of Little Boxes while in the company of friends and imagine yourselves to be subversive. After all, there is a line of clothing, eco-friendly garbage, magazines and nicknacks — an entire lifestyle — available for such niche markets.

But the situation is far from hopeless. Genuine community is far from having been made impossible. It is always just beneath the surface, and it’s tiresome trying to continually convince ourselves of the dangers in engaging in anything remotely reminiscent of it. The question of tactics is still open, always open, as the ground is increasingly and incessantly shifting, allowing we clever of minds to act, respond or plan perpendicularities accordingly. If we ever hope to establish genuine forms of community then we must ceaselessly dream, experiment, participate, critically consider and most importantly, act.

The necessity of resistance

 This article appeared in the Gauntlet on January 26, 2012.

Our era has been polluted, perhaps to the point of terminal illness, by the mechanisms and apparatuses of an immense behemoth: the hegemonic totality called Empire. Its machinations are global in scale, and the old alliances and divisions no longer matter. It is no longer east versus west or democracy versus Islam or any other manifestation of this traditional dichotomy, but us versus the system. Whether we live in a so-called liberal democracy or under a military dictatorship, or in an economy of wealth or poverty, we all become sublimated into the dominion of Empire.

Most of us fail to see Empire for what it is: an undesirable, all-encompassing, all-consuming system, whose sole purpose is self-perpetuation at any cost and whose main tactic is pacification of the spirit. Empire seeks to reduce any things and all things to itself. Empire was once simply a cancer, an accidental mutation in the genes of one hegemony or another — but the cancerous lumps were not extracted with enough speed or precision, and now the cancer is an organism in its own right.

The organs of the organism of Empire twist and turn to produce the acidic slime that corrodes all things external, all things still dense with the intensity of life. We are left with a numbness of mind, an ultra-personalization that has bankrupted the soul, a pathological ‘individuality’ that endlessly reticulates us into the horror of sameness. And thus we find ourselves consumed and contained in the bio-political tissue of Empire.

Empire is undesirable — this is no longer open for debate. The important question is how can we annihilate Empire? What is to be done? How is it to be done? When we try to fix, reform, better Empire, all we do is make its apparatuses and organs more sensitive and supple, that is, more efficient in the constant liquidation of all alternative vitalities. We must annihilate Empire. The worry is that Empire’s enormousness, all-pervasiveness and the efficiency of its organs and apparatuses have made subversion impossible. As soon as alternative space is born — that a density of essential vitalities forms — Empire infiltrates it, its values are corroded, its terminology and turns of phrase are reduced to slogans and bumper stickers.

But subversion is not impossible; insurrection, so long as synapses are still capable of making new connections, is always possible, no matter how thin the hope. If Empire were capable of eradicating all forms of subversion, all opportunities for alternatives, then the organs and apparatuses of Empire would become obsolete, the gears and guts would grind to a halt and the human spirit would die.

We must adopt resistance as a way of life. We must be sensitive to the ebb and flow of Empire’s bio-political tissue. It is only through being perceptive to their subtle movements that one can ever create a space for subversion, and, when the moment is right, to command insurrection. We must sharpen the blades of our critical thought. One ought to be like Marx and Engels’s shopkeeper, who understands that there is a difference between what a person says and who a person is, between Empire’s appearances and Empire’s reality. We need a mental toolkit capable both of digging deep beneath the surface, and when necessary, to dissect with the utmost precision. We need a will-to-action that keeps us from passivity. The machinations of Empire have convinced us that lifestyle is bought and sold  — one needs merely to shop at the right stores to be the person they wish to be. This trick performed by Empire has led so many into passivity and sameness, into the pathological horror of ‘individuality.’ What is needed is a willingness to act.

All previous strategies of resistance have been consumed or are in the process of being consumed by Empire, but this is not a point of distress. There’s no pre-conceived formula for successful subversion beyond simple ‘doing,’ and thus there is limitless possibility for the creation of legitimate alternatives in the face of Empire. We need not digest the metaphysical baggage of our revolutionary forefathers. That is, we are without maps, or, at least, the maps we have been given are of no value to us any longer, giving us the full capacity to set sail and chart radical, new geographies. There is no such thing as being too weak or being too remote to resist Empire, as its limbs operate everywhere on all levels, and every effort is crucial. The possible expressions of resistance — the promotions of provocation — are limitless, so long as something rather than nothing is being done. It is useless to wait for the revolution to come or for Empire to destroy itself. Empire must just be opposed outright and at every opportunity.

We must establish a density of place — of vitality, capable of resistance to the global manager/administrator that is Empire. We must take seriously the words of Tiqqun: “Presence triumphing through theft, fraud, crime, friendship, enmity, conspiracy. Through the elaboration of modes of life that are also modes of struggle. Politics of taking-place. Empire does not take place. It administers absence through a hovering threat of police intervention. Whoever tries to measure up against the imperial adversary will be preventively annihilated. From now on, to be perceived is to be defeated. Learn to become indiscernible. Blend in. Revive the taste for anonymity, for promiscuity. Renounce distinction in order to evade repression: arrange for the most favorable conditions of confrontation. Become crafty. Become pitiless. To do so, become whatever.”

Empire may be an all-encompassing and all-consuming system, but subversion and the creation of alternative spaces — new densities of vitality through ‘whatever’ — is not only a possibility, but a necessity.

Of eschatological concern

This column appeared in the Gauntlet on Jan. 11, 2012

On New Year’s eve, drink in hand — as the clock geared itself towards 2011’s terminal moment — I found myself on the deck of the tallest penthouse in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, peering out on the sprawling beach city down below. Having grown weary from the inane smalltalk around me, I escaped my fellow bourgeoisie party-goers for the open air. As I watched the beach party below a fragment of conversation drifted out from the party behind me: “Well, the Mayan calendar ends this year . . .” A mere gust of words, but my mind took sail.

Many of us are familiar with the 2012 end-of-the-world scenario, wherein various astronomical, astrological, numerological, mythic and archaic phenomena have been interpreted  to strongly suggest that the end of this year is the end of all years, whether through utter catastrophe or deeply transformative events. And while scientists and scholars the world over have heavily invested themselves in attacking and deconstructing the 2012 mythos that your hippy aunt rants about every family get-together, I suggest that we ought to give it some serious consideration. After all, the world is at stake.

Eschatology, the ‘study of the end,’ ought to cause concern in every one of us. While the Mayan calendar predictions are most likely pseudo-intellectual garbage in the vein of Nostradamus or Ayn Rand, there should be no doubt in each of our minds that something deeply worrying is unfolding across the globe. Philosopher Slavoj Žižek has warned us that the domination of global capitalism that we embarrassingly tolerate has brought the world right to the edge of total catastrophe. The four horsemen of Žižek’s apocalyptic vision are ecology (impending ecological catastrophes), economy (the global financial meltdown), biology (the biogenetic revolution and its impact on human identity) and society (social divisions leading to the explosion of protest and revolutions worldwide.)

But we don’t need to face this fatalistic alignment with resignation, as the Second World War propaganda maxim “keep calm and carry on” would tell us. These end of days are an opportunity to transform the world. We can treat Žižek’s prescription of global catastrophe as a call to arms, not an admittance of defeat. The late Terrence McKenna — psychedelic-scientist extraordinaire — informed us in his 1975 book, The Invisible Landscape: Mind, Hallucinogens, and the I Ching, that certain patterns of ‘novelty’ underlay historic events, reaching a ‘zero point’ [extreme point] of novelty sometime by the end of this year. McKenna wasn’t interested in treating the 2012 phenomenon with a pessimistic/apocalyptic bent, but as a point of radical evolution or transformation of global consciousness — a sort of planetary awakening that would have the potential to give birth to the sort of world we presently only dream of.

You don’t need to believe that an ancient Mesoamerican society presciently predicted that the planet Nibiru will collide with Earth come Dec. 21, 2012, but you ought to realize the severity and seriousness of the situation. This end of times need not be a zero-point of devastation, but a chance to make things right, and give birth to a new society, a new consciousness, a new world.

But for such a vision to be realized we need to remember Paul Goodman: “The solution of this issue is easy, easy in theory, easy in practice . . . direct action.” No more keeping calm. No more carrying on. It’s time to act.

I left the party just before midnight. Slightly intoxicated, I wandered to the beach. There in the sand, surrounded by euphoric strangers, I listened to the countdown, then watched as fireworks erupted all across the city, beach and sea — the light flooded the skies from every conceivably corner of the city. I felt the cool of the surf wash up over my feet.