Forgive Us Our Trespasses

Throwing Judo Moves

Originally published in French in 1976, Symbolic Exchange and Death finds Jean Baudrillard incorporating into his thought the work of Marcel Mauss, a French sociologist who studied gift exchange in primitive societies. Mauss wrote about rituals in which each member is obligated to give gifts, receive gifts and provide counter-gifts, all of which contain traces of the person’s soul. The “goal” of the ritual: a gift-receiver must overwhelm a gift-giver with a counter-gift so powerful no further counter-gift is possible. In the process of trying to one-up each other, tribal members deliberately waste excess resources to ensure no one accumulates too much wealth.

Baudrillard views these rituals as a radical form of symbolic exchange, a concept he uses to critique capitalism. Emphasizing community and submission to fate, primitive peoples put to shame American values like greed, self-importance and celebrity worship.

Civilized societies based on economic exchange retain elements of symbolic exchange that haunt modern life. Still, Baudrillard argues, if we wish to save what makes us human, we must challenge the homogeny of the capitalist system with a gift it can’t return. We must force the system to humble itself before the world.

Nothing is more spectacular or subversive than suicide.

Death as creative act. Suicide as counter-gift. This is Baudrillard’s private revolution against capitalism’s reign of terror. People in Western cultures don’t kill themselves, Baudrillard contends, because resources are scarce. They crack under the pressure of mandatory consumption, their bodies too weak to enjoy a lifetime supply of products and services they don’t need and never asked for.

Thankfully, we don’t have to die to issue a challenge. We can commit theoretical terror, like Baudrillard does in his writings, or we can sacrifice ourselves through super-obedience to the logic of the system, devolving into passive-aggressive citizen-robots. In both cases a duel commences in which the weaker party throws what Baudrillard calls “judo moves” at its much stronger opponent, turning the system’s power against itself.

Compassionate Anti-Violence

While I’m intrigued by Baudrillard’s provocative analysis, I’m here to issue him a challenge of my own. We live in a violent world rooted in socially constructed systems of power, oppression and abuse. We hurt, so we hurt each other. Rather than responding to violence with more violence, we must learn to forgive ourselves and each other for all our trespasses.

An understated but radical concept: forgiveness as the ultimate counter-gift.

There’s no reason to forgive someone who hurt me, just as there was no reason for him to hurt me in the first place. As a survivor who learns to forgive, I resist an impulse to give up. I can then devote myself to promoting an ethics of what I call “compassionate anti-violence,” which means fighting for empathy without punching people in the face.

This is not merely a personal healing. Survivors who acknowledge the truth of their ordeals are free to confront evil and protect others from harm, reducing suffering throughout the world. Poverty, slavery, human trafficking, sexual exploitation, terrorism, war: these are just a few examples of social and political traumas that threaten individual lives and the foundations of entire cultures.

Of course, anger and sadness are normal responses to injustice. I don’t deny anyone’s right to express outrage or disgust, but staying angry increases misery. To make matters worse, many survivors mistakenly blame themselves for events beyond their control. An inner-directed forgiveness has the power to heal self-inflicted wounds.

A Unique Burden

I live between extremes. One moment I’m hypervigilant—scanning my environment for threats, startled by the sound of my heartbeat. Minutes later I’m numb, disconnected from reality, an imposter in my own body—a classic case of depersonalization.

When I’m hypervigilant, I’m keyed up from living in protect mode. When depersonalization sets in, I’m desperate to confirm I’m alive. I find danger lurking in all directions, each step a trudge through the middle of imaginary battlefields.

There’s a reason for my distress: as a child I endured years of physical and psychological abuse. As a teenager, in addition to clinical depression, I received a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder. I was, in a way, “gifted” a unique burden, one I continue to carry with me.

Everyone suffers. My attacker was hurting when he hurt me. I assume he struggles to make sense of his actions years later. I don’t want to compound my suffering—or his—by hitting back. Despite attempts to erase him from my mind, I realize we’re forever linked.

Of course, I’m no saint. I’ve hurt family and friends, even lashed out at strangers. One spring day in 2003, I took more pills than my bottles directed. This got me a date with an ER nurse whose name escapes me. She poured me a pitcher of soot water to neutralize the poison.

“You’re so young,” she said. “You have so much to look forward to.”

There’s a chart somewhere with my personal history. I don’t know if I thanked her for filling in the blanks.

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Master Of Divinity

Does God
believe
in heaven

Does God
believe
in me

Does God
make automatic
weapons

Does God
take life
seriously

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Filed under Philosophy, Politics

Three Of A Mind

  • thesis – antithesis – synthesis
  • Id – Ego – Superego
  • talk – text – data
  • conservative – liberal – anarchist
  • client – therapist – transference
  • duty – honor – country
  • lather – rinse – repeat
  • shadow – reflection – unconscious
  • signifier – signified – referent
  • FOX – CNN – TMZ
  • kids – marriage – bankruptcy
  • alcohol – tobacco – firearms
  • everything – must – go
  • death – burial – resurrection
  • location – location – location
  • life – liberty – property
  • transportation – security – administration
  • stop – drop – roll
  • top – bottom – switch
  • rock – paper – scissors
  • duck – duck – goose
  • imaginary – symbolic – real
  • cave – typewriter – tablet
  • legislative – executive – judicial
  • cash – credit – debit
  • people – places – things
  • there – their – they’re
  • mind – body – soul
  • bacon – lettuce – tomato
  • YOLO – CEO – GMO
  • heels – boots – curves
  • Tinder – Grindr – masturbator
  • terror – surveillance – democracy
  • faith – hope – charity
  • father – priest – warden
  • Netflix – Hulu – Prime
  • Facebook – Twitter – telegram
  • diagnosis – treatment – prevention
  • intrusion – avoidance – hyperarousal
  • thesis – antithesis – synthesis

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Filed under Philosophy

Final Fantasy 2.0

This post previously published here.

On February 23, 2008, about 200 volunteers flushed, level by level, every toilet and urinal at newly built Nationals Park in Washington, D.C., to see if the pipes could handle the load.

Imagine a moment when everyone in the world with a smartphone sent each other a smiley face emoji at the same time—not to test the limits of all the networks, just for shits and giggles. Put yourself in the micro-second between everyone hitting send in unison and the possibility that no one would remain on the planet afterwards to respond. Are we not right now suspended between the final fantasy of synchronized global suicide and its fulfillment via technology?

A far more sinister way to end the world would be to realize everyone’s fantasies, a process virtual reality machines have already begun. Realizing every fantasy would destroy the symbolic power of fantasy itself. We’d be left with a literal translation of every metaphor, a logical explanation for every random thought. No more latent content to our dreams—every secret would be dragged out of our minds and streamed “as is” in real time. Before too long, we’d pray to God for nothing less than Nothingness.

For now, we text and carry on—everyone equal before the Law of Communication—forced to send and receive information, most of it useless. Just do it. Just speak.

The most radical message left for us today is to say nothing at all.

Imagine a moment when everyone on the planet with a smartphone refused at the same time to send a text. Or a moment when everyone on the planet flushed a smartphone down a toilet. Dream up a fantasy so spectacular it threatens to end the world and then, for the sake of fantasy, don’t tell a soul.

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A Blessing In Demise

This post previously published here.

We are told to exercise, to improve the quality of our lives, to above all be happy. We buy a Fitbit. It counts our steps, checks our vitals, monitors our sleep cycles. We become health-conscious consumers of physical exhaustion. Life, no longer a spiritual journey, becomes the quest to outrun a gurney.

Let’s be real: the final goal of science and technology is to exterminate death. It may take forever, but future generations of scientists will risk their lives to get dying under control.

Are we not heading towards a man-made eternity without God? Are we not destined to create a permanent Heaven on Earth that would put to rest all hope of an afterlife?

We must resist the consumerist imperative to buy ourselves more time at all costs. Accept death as a devastating act of mercy. A blessing in demise.

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Filed under Philosophy

Breakup Song

Tell me everything is alright.
Tell me everything is all right.
Tell me everything is alt right.
Tell me I don’t look fat in these jeans.
Tell me I’m the one that got away.
Tell me this world wasn’t meant for one as beautiful as me.
Tell me I’m on your mind when you come.
Tell me my hands are bigger than the President’s.
Tell me I donate enough to hurricane relief funds.
Tell me you bought my book and the shipping was free.
Tell me I’m a white boy from the suburbs what do I know about “suffering.”
Tell me everything will be O.K.
Tell me everything will be OK.
Tell me everything will be okay.
Tell me I’m more than a hound dog.
Tell me my poem is lovelier than a tree.
Tell me you think of me when you come.
Tell me everybody dies in the end.
Tell me I’m not alone in this world.
Tell me I’ve no longer got you babe.
Tell me what will be will be no more.
Tell me I’m no longer allergic to milk.
Tell me he doesn’t taste the same as me.

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blog off

I have nothing to say
Nothing     to         say  I      have
To             sayI                have     nothing
Have             nothing        I            to    say
To have           nothing        I say
Nothing   Ihavetosay
Say     nothing I        have                    to
Have I                nothing to            say
To nothing               I   have              say
Nothing to say I          have
I       have   tosay         nothing
I say to have nothing
Nothing          to have           I      say
To           have nothing               I         say
Have       nothing    I say       to
Have                  I             to         say           nothing
Nothing speaks to me

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Filed under Meta-Blog, Poetry