I am trying lately to organize my thoughts – a daily struggle – and figured jotting down some notes was overdue. In spite of my COVID-related layoff in March, my partner whom I cohabitate with and I are both “essential” workers – something that I embraced at first because being beholden indefinitely to the meager scraps of care from Unemployment Insurance would be a wager against my well-being further into the long-run of this grinding horror that has become reality. Although I am fortunate to be working at a job which is 1) fair-paying, 2) reasonably safe and 3) low-traffic, I cannot help to fear for my partner who is stuck at the mercy of leviathanic corporate grocery retail and their will to pursue massive profits at the neglect of their labor force.
There are many aspects of COVID that have made the contradictions offered by capitalism, technology, news media, faith in institutions and civilization become plainly visible – though the smug pop-Marxist platitude of it being a radicalizing “class consciousness” moment strikes me as tone-deaf to the fact that these realities were all largely known to the oppressed well before COVID made this undeniable to people further from struggle than the average reformist. However, despite the spectacular event of mass death set among a backdrop of total infrastructural failure and unabated capitalist acceleration, I am horrified at success of the concerted effort to transmute spectacular horror into a kind of mundane white noise that becomes a horrid new tone in the putrid-but-familiar miasma of alienation.
A haunting reality has been pointed out in Umair Haque’s recent essay where he describes the increasingly-real possibility of a kind of COVID permanence – a state of COVID never going away much like the pre-enlightenment plagues. However, the reality of COVID permanence and the conditions which cause and are effected by its arrival presents a kind of capitalist and civilizationist realism wherein there can also be no future beyond that of one dominated by not only the amoral entity of COVID but also the inextricably political realities of the things that come along with it (massive unsolvable death along racial and class lines wielded as a political weapon, techno-solutionism that abets the building of surveillance state, deeper precarity within labor markets, the hyper-regulation of borders and movement, social atomization and the further degradation of human life to solely being useful as a body meant for buying products and selling labor with no ability to have social function beyond these interactions, etc). It is remarkable (in the most horrifying sense) to see how quickly this becomes just another part of the Ballardian dystopia of daily life. A climbing death toll that tears through racialized, disenfranchised, poverty-stricken, and infrastrucally-unsupported people has scarcely been given the gravity it deserves since the numbers climbed past 100,000. People’s tacit acceptance of the inconvenience of a “new normal” becomes the acceptance of a reality plummeting us into a social and political death that becomes the dingy wallpaper to a new 9-to-5 work-from-home office furnished and sustained with boom-times tech-abetted consumer software platforms and the scolding performative moral outrage that only those that labor under the delusion of middle class aspirations can have for those attempting to survive without a safety net.
My thoughts haven’t been entirely focused on the reality of COVID’s choking restructuring of life. I am deeply inspired by and supportive of the uprisings against the state following the police murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade and the 120 who have been extrajudicially murdered at the hands of the state since Floyd’s death. Although it is beyond my ability for commentary beyond solidarity – the voices and actions of Black people in the streets (including not only the Black anarchists and autonomists but also the masses of people fighting for their humanity beyond the gaze and approval of white activism and ideological perspective) fighting for the abolition of the police, prison, the state, the colonial project, empire and the domination of whiteness have been immensely important in dismantling and disrupting the non-profit activist industry that would hope to channel the mass-mobilization of people’s outrage into the channels of ritualized activism, non-profit advocacy liberalism and begging the state for crumbs of reformism.
Despite my awe at this unapologetic demand of freedom, I find myself distraught that the struggle is beset by a fight not only against the state and its forces of maintaining order (whose matrix of technologically-assisted surveillance and militarized force enables them to repress, disinform and target organizers and radicals like never before) and organized fascists (whom I had a harrowing but necessary run-in with alongside fellow radicals invested in community self-defense), but also – perhaps shocking no one, the hobbyist class of liberal apologia and scolding that seeks to maintain their status quo at the expense of the oppressed. It is nothing new to see the liberal / professional class / non-profit sector so quickly attempt to derail the goals of unconditional autonomy and dignity with their bland pleas toward respectability, order and reform – nor will it be surprising to anyone when these pleas fall on rightfully deaf ears. One powerful tool that the liberals have in their arsenal – especially manifested in the conditionally-supportive white allies to the struggle – is once again their ability to make all of this into something mundane, normal and just a part of a dystopian realization of the present that cannot be addressed beyond noting it as some unsolvable and inevitable condition of reality.
It is the principle of the anarchist to fight alongside the oppressed to dismantle the conditions of civilization that make everyday life unlivable, and to embody this fight in not only spectacular activities, but also in the mundane activities that we must interrogate to find pathways toward autonomy from the grinding hell of civilizational, statist, capitalist, white supremacist and carceral realism. Doing less than that is falling short of our commitment to solidarity with the oppressed and their fight for autonomous existence, and betrays our own desire to let the horror of domination and alienation become something unimpeachable and unchallenged as part of the miasma of dread to which we resign in our weakest moments.
While I feel no need to necessarily make this scrawl of thoughts pertain to music – I do realize that that is what the handful of people reading this find relevant. Perhaps it is sufficient to say that dance music is lower on the list of preoccupations and things I have been dedicating energy toward but it is certainly still there. The collapse of the dance music industry in the COVID pandemic has had unsurprising consequences; it’s amoral suffocation dismantling the most luxury-oriented capitalist-infrastructural careers, outlets and spaces with the same moral blankness by which it dismantled the precarious careers, self-supporting artists, spaces and outlets for independent and challenging thought. Much like the above point, only the force of unmaking is in itself apolitical; rather, the conditions of alienation, power, labor and precarity have now only been heightened across the scene. However – my hope and personal investment is (and always has been) that a reshaping of goals, a building of autonomous infrastructure and an abandonment of aspiration toward luxury-commodity dance music careerism becomes a post(???)-pandemic guiding principle by which we can begin to rebuild the scene.
Also, it should be noted that we have been given the rare opportunity to use the amoral leveling of our scene to rebuild and remake it in such a way that absolutely must incorporate the wishes of Black artists and founders of the genre and support the calls for artistic and financial equity, access to power and resources, representation, foundational acknowledgement and recentering of the genre upon Black expression and the struggle for autonomy and dignity.
This restructuring is achievable in the underground in a way that the capital- and resource-hoarding infrastructure built by the luxury-commodity techno industry will never be truly able to embrace (these are the professional backstabbing liberals of our subculture and must be identified as the enemy, despite what they offer to us as artists wagering our precarity for a taste of their resources). If we waste this opportunity and remake our scene as part of the shallow myopia of white-kid DIY culture with a 4/4 kick, then we will have wasted a critical opportunity.