God, History, Nature, the Future: such abstract concepts open upon infinite horizons. They can only be grasped when they are cut down to a manageable size—for example, in a narrative framed by someone who undertakes to represent them. As many people are anxious about these matters, such representatives are in high demand, and wield great influence in selecting what to include in their narratives: “The Lord created Man to be the custodian of His creation,” “women are innately intuitive,” “the history of civilization is the history of the class struggle.” So it is that for God we have priests, for History historians, for Nature scientists, for Revolution theorists—though every human being possesses in his or her own experience alone enough raw material to draw at least some valid conclusions about any of these vast, vague subjects.↑
A statistical inevitability.
Some nuclear power plants are built on fault lines, but every mine, dam, oil rig, and waste dump is founded upon a tacit acceptance of the worst-case scenario. On a long enough timeline, everything that can go wrong will, however small the likelihood is from one day to the next. The responsible parties may wring their hands about the Fukushima meltdown—and the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and the Exxon Valdez and Hurricane Katrina and Chernobyl, Bhopal, Haiti—but accident is no accident.↑
Having no head; e.g., a horizontal federation of autonomous collectives, or an anarchist after an uprising↑
One develops skills according to one’s situation. The executive learns to give orders, the underling to avoid carrying them out; the prisoner becomes adept at doing time.
The drive to utilize one’s abilities appears to be at least as powerful as the desire for pleasure. One of the reasons people reenlist in the military—or return to other abusive relationships—is to continue making use of their finely honed crisis management skills. Nothing is more terrifying than the unknown, in which one must become something else—than uncertainty, in which one may blame oneself for things going badly because they really might have gone better. Thus our tremendous capacity for adaptation, though it kept us alive in Auschwitz and Biafra, can shackle us to an otherwise insufferable present.
On the other hand, when we have no choice but to adapt, it is certain that we will. If people survived in Auschwitz and Biafra, we could surely adjust to life without managers.
The instant you get out of prison you have the sense that you are leaving something dear to you. Why? Because you know that you are leaving a part of your life inside, because you spent some of your life there which, even if it was under terrible conditions, is still a part of you. And even if you lived it badly and suffered horribly, which is not always the case, it is always better than the nothing that your life is reduced to the moment it disappears.
The word conjures the image of a shuddering junkie wandering the streets; but anyone familiar with the narcotics industry knows that selling is as habit-forming as using—and that goes for every other racket as well.↑
That is to say, obscene↑
The scandalous practice of enjoying yourself in the course of struggle↑
A lawyer. Hence the redundancy, “devil’s advocate.”↑
Heaven is wasted on the dead↑
The sense that one is able to exert influence on the course of events. Government departments such as the Environmental Protection Agency retain this word in their names in the same way that an apartment complex replacing a forest might be named “Shady Acres.”
Until November 1999, few anarchists knew anything about the World Trade Organization or the International Monetary Fund. Shortly after the historic protests at the WTO and IMF summits of 1999 and 2000, any punk or fellow traveler could expound on the wrongdoings of these institutions in greater detail than the average grad student. Feeling that one has some leverage upon something, even by proxy or association, makes one a great deal more interested in it.
Activists usually begin by trying to educate the public in order to build up to taking action. Perhaps they’ve got it backwards.
“All this gave Francois a new lease on life. He would shake me and say, ‘What a ball! Just think! What a celebration if after all this there is not a chance! They are just ghosts, the ones who think people fight to win! They fight because they like it.’”
–And There Was Light, Autobiography of Jacques Lusseyran, Blind Hero of the French Resistance
A means of reducing inhibitions. Unfortunately, some people’s inhibitions are their only redeeming qualities.↑
The distance that separates us from the lives we lead.
A person can survive a day without water, a week without sleep, a month without food. But you can survive alienation indefinitely. That makes it worst of all.↑
The desiderata of those who hope to enact social change without having to fundamentally alter their way of life. Demanding alternatives often indicates a failure to think outside the framework that produced the original problem.
The equipment is sterilized, the patient is anesthetized, and the operation is about to begin when a deranged man comes charging through the doors.
“WAIT!” shouts the intruder. “DON’T OPERATE!”
“What the hell do you mean, ‘don’t operate,’” sputters the dumbfounded surgeon. “This woman’s life is on the line!”
“DON’T OPERATE!” repeats the hysterical man. “WHAT WILL YOU PUT IN PLACE OF THE TUMOR?”↑
What zoos are to animals, amusement parks are to fun↑
A power vacuum that can defend itself.↑
Professional revolutionaries are to revolution what professional wrestlers are to wrestling↑
A time-honored means of politely silencing a person who has made enough demands upon the attention of the public; a white noise for dispelling an experience and cleansing the mental palate; a ritual offering audience members a sense of closure so they can forget what has been said and get on with their lives.
If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands.↑
Pertaining to or resulting from arbitration↑
Less avant, more garde!
What do you think an artist is? An imbecile who has only his eyes if he’s a painter, or ears if he’s a musician, or a lyre at every level of his heart if he’s a poet, or even, if he’s a boxer, just his muscles? On the contrary, he’s at the same time a political being, constantly alive to heartrending, fiery, or happy events, to which he responds in every way. How would it be possible to feel no interest in other people and by virtue of an ivory indifference to detach yourself from the life which they so copiously bring you?
No, painting is not done to decorate apartments. It is an instrument of war for attack and defense against the enemy.
In 2006, three detainees hanged themselves at the US prison camp on the shore of Guantánamo Bay. Their suicide notes were not released to the public. All three had participated in hunger strikes and had been force-fed by camp authorities; deadpan as always, the US military announced that their corpses were being treated “with the utmost respect.” Despite their lawyers’ insistence to the contrary, Camp Commander Harry Harris told the BBC World News that he did not believe the men had killed themselves out of despair: “They are smart, they are creative, they are committed,” he emphasized. “They have no regard for life, either ours or their own. I believe this was not an act of desperation, but an act of asymmetrical warfare waged against us.”↑