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Interview With Hakim Bey

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    An Anarchist in the Hudson Valley in conversation: Peter Lamborn Wilson with Jennifer Bleyer July 2004 http://brooklynrail.org/spotlight/july04/wilson.html
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 3, 2004
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      An Anarchist in the Hudson Valley
      in conversation: Peter Lamborn Wilson
      with Jennifer Bleyer
      July 2004

      It’s been nearly ten years since Peter Lamborn Wilsonâ€"née Hakim
      Beyâ€"looked at the pitiably state-bound, rule-bound world around him
      and asked: "Are we who live in the present doomed never to experience
      autonomy, never to stand for one moment on a bit of land ruled only
      by freedom?" In a slim, rattling volume called Temporary Autonomous
      Zone, Wilson intoned that, in fact, freedom is already here. Autonomy
      exists in time, he said, rather than space. It’s in times of
      wildness, revelry, abandon and revolution that for even just one
      brief jail-breaking moment, as sweet as honey to the tongue, one is
      freed of all political and social control.

      Wilson rightly became celebrated as a kind of urban prophet. It was
      an identity to add the others he bears seamlessly and without
      contradiction: anarchist, poet, public intellectual, psychedelic
      explorer, artist, social critic, Sufi mystic. Six years ago he moved
      upstate from the East Village to New Paltz, New York. The setting is
      different, but the ideas have only deepenedâ€"notably his critique of
      global capital and "technological determination." In his green wood-
      frame house, trees rustling overhead and birds chirping outside, we
      drank tea and talked.

      Jennifer Bleyer: You left New York City six years ago and moved
      upstate to New Paltz. There’s a lot of art happening here and in
      the Hudson Valley in general, which seems pretty cool.

      Peter Lamborn Wilson: The fact of it happening anywhere makes it more
      interesting than a kick in the face. But the fact of the matter is
      that America doesn’t produce anything anymore. A couple of years
      ago, we passed the halfway mark from being a so-called productive
      economy to a services economy. What are services? You tell me.
      Whatever it means, we don’t make pencils. We don’t make cement.
      We don’t make ladies garments or roll cigars. We don’t even
      manufacture computers. In other words, we don’t make anything,,
      especially not around here. There are a few cement factories left up
      in Greene County, but basically, industry died here in the fifties.
      It was a long slow death, certainly over by the seventies. There was
      a depression, so artists, who are certainly blameless in this,
      discovered low real estate prices and low rents, and they started to
      move up here. And the gap between the artists and the real estate
      developers has gotten very small in our modern times, down to where
      it’s almost nothing.

      So for a few years the artists and their friends came up here and got
      bargains and moved in, and now artists’ studios in Beacon sell for
      a quarter-million dollars. And we’re talking about a one-room
      building on a half-acre lot. You want a house? Half-a-million. Do you
      know any artists who can afford that? The point is that there’s a
      lot of boosterism for the arts in the Hudson Valley because there’s
      no other economy. It’s either that or "green tourism," which in my
      mind is a disgusting term and something that I don’t want to see
      promoted in any way. It’s a commodification of nature, turning
      nature into a source of profit for the managerial caste in the Hudson
      Valley. That’s not the solution I’m interested in.

      We have all these knee-jerk phrases that in the sixties sounded like
      communist revolution, and now are just corpses in the mouths of real
      estate developers. "Sustainable development"â€"that means very
      expensive houses for vaguely ecologically conscious idiots from New
      York. It has nothing to do with a sustainable economy or
      permaculture. They talk about agriculture, they get all weepy about
      it, but they won’t do anything for the family farms because family
      farms use pesticides and fertilizers, which is a terrible sin in the
      minds of these people. So they’re perfectly happy to see the old
      farms close down and build McMansions, as long as they’re green
      McMansions, of course, with maybe a little solar power so they can
      boast about how they are almost off the grid. This is just yuppie
      poseurism. It’s fashionable to be green, but it’s not at all
      fashionable to wonder about the actual working class and farming
      people and families that you’re dispossessing. This is a class war
      situation, and the artists are unfortunately not on the right side of
      the battle. If we would just honestly look at what function we’re
      serving in this economy, I’m afraid we would see that we’re
      basically shills for real estate developers.

      Bleyer: Which is really the case in Beacon, I suppose.

      Wilson: Oh, absolutely. Dead Hudson Valley industrial towns
      reinventing themselves as prole-free zones and calling it art. Now,
      everyone I know is involved in the arts, and I’m involved in the
      arts, so what I’m saying here is a bit of a mea culpa. I don’t
      think that we can consider ourselves guiltless and not implicated in
      all this because we’re creative and artsy and have leftist
      emotions. Where are our actual alternative institution-building
      energies? Where are our food co-ops? Where’s our support for the
      Mexican migrant agricultural workers? Most people here are not
      interested in that.

      Bleyer: So where should people who consider themselves radical be
      directing their energies?

      Wilson: I think that a radical life is not something that depends on
      Internet connections or websites or demos or even on politics, like
      having Green mayors. This may sound dull to people who think that
      having a really hot website is a revolutionary act. Or that getting a
      million people to come out and wave symbolic signs at a symbolic
      march is a political act. If it doesn’t involve alternative
      economic institution building, it’s not. As an anarchist, I’ve
      had this critique for years, and experience has only deepened it.
      Here, there are people who are very concerned with trying to preserve
      whatever natural beauty and farmland exists in this region, and my
      heart’s with them. But I think it’s done by and large without any
      consciousness that this is already a privileged enclave. We’re
      saying that this is our backyard and we don’t want any cement
      factories. However, we’re not saying that we volunteer to do
      without cement. What we’re saying is cement is fine, as long as the
      factories are in Mexico.

      Bleyer: Or in Sullivan County.

      Wilson: Or Sullivan County. Although Sullivan County is fast
      reinventing itself, too.

      Bleyer: You mentioned hot websites. I’m curious about your thoughts
      on the web now, because ten years ago you seemed optimistic about its

      Wilson: Well, I wouldn’t say I was an optimist. I was curious and
      attempted an anti-pessimist view. I went to about 25 conferences in
      Europe in seven years, and in all that time, I never had a computer
      or was on the Internet myself. I never have been. So I went to these
      conferences as the voice of caution, the one guy who doesn’t own a
      computer. Little by little, my talks at these conferences would
      become more and more Luddite, sounding the knell of warning about
      mechanization of consciousness and alienation and separation. There
      was a time when everything was so confused and chaotic that it was
      easy to believe that this technology would be an exception to all the
      other technologies, and instead of enslaving us, it would liberate
      us. I never actually believed that, but I was willing to talk to
      people who did. Now I’m not willing to talk to them anymore. I have
      no interest in this dialogue. It’s finished. The Internet revealed
      itself as the perfect mirror image of global capital. It has no
      borders? Neither does global capital. Governments can’t control it?
      Neither can they control global capital. Nor do they want to.
      They’ve given up trying, and now they basically serve as the
      mercenary armed forces for the corporate interstateâ€"the 200 or 300
      megacorporations that actually run the world. Fine. But let’s not
      call this radical politics, and let’s not call this liberation, and
      let’s not talk about cyberfeminism or virtual community. Basically,
      I’m a Luddite. Certain technologies hurt the commonality, as they
      used to say in the early 19th century. Any machinery that was hurtful
      to the commonality, they took their sledgehammers out and tried to
      smash. Direct action. That’s the Luddite critiqueâ€"you do it with
      a sledgehammer. What it means now to live as a Luddite seems to me to
      involve a strict attention to what technologies one allows into
      one’s life.

      Bleyer: And I guess the Internet has really come to be the pinnacle
      of this hurtful technology, in our age.

      Wilson: Yes. You’re slumped in front of a screen, in the same
      physical situation as a TV watcher, you’ve just added a typewriter.
      And you’re "interactive." What does that mean? It does not mean
      community. It’s catatonic schizophrenia. So blah blah blah,
      communicate communicate, data data data. It doesn’t mean anything
      more than catatonics babbling and drooling in a mental institution.
      Why can’t we stop? How is it that five years ago there were no cell
      phones, and now everyone needs a cell phone? You can pick up any book
      by any half-brained post-Marxist jerkoff and read about how
      capitalism creates false needs. Yet we allow it to go on.

      Bleyer: But isn’t there something to be said for the subversive use
      of technologies?

      Wilson: We believed that in the ’80s. The idea was that alternative
      media would allow us the space in which to organize other things.
      Even in the ’80s I said I’m waiting for my turkey and my turnips.
      I want some material benefits from the Internet. I want to see
      somebody set up a barter network where I could trade poetry for
      turnips. Or not even poetryâ€"lawn cutting, whatever. I want to see
      the Internet used to spread the Ithaca dollar system around America
      so that every community could start using alternative labor dollars.
      It is not happening. And so I wonder, why isn’t it happening? And
      finally the Luddite philosophy becomes clear. We create the machines
      and therefore we think we control them, but then the machines create
      us, so we can create new machines, which then can create us. It’s a
      feedback situation between humanity and technology. There is some
      truth to the idea of technological determination, especially when
      you’re unconscious, drifting around like a sleepwalker. Especially
      when you’ve given up believing in anti-capitalism because they’ve
      convinced you that the free market is a natural law, and we just have
      to accept that and hope for a free market with a friendly smiling
      face. Smiley-faced fascism. I see so many people working for that as
      if it were a real cause. "If we have to have capitalism, let’s make
      it green capitalism." There’s no such thing. It’s a hallucination
      of the worst sort, because it isn’t even a pleasurable one. It’s
      a nightmare.

      Bleyer: I’m curious if you think we’re hallucinating more now
      than ever beforeâ€"if the psychic energy for liberation is gone.

      Moises Saman, "Kabul National Theater" (2004), Lamda print. From an
      exhibition of Saman’s work currently at Satellite (94 Prince
      Street) through September 4. Moises Saman © 2004, Newsday, Inc.

      Wilson: The answer would have to be extremely complex, because I
      don’t have any snappy aphorisms to explain this. You might say that
      it wouldn’t matter if every government in the world was taken over
      by screaming green socialists tomorrow morning, they couldn’t
      reverse the damage. I don’t know. It seems clear that in human
      society, despite the best intentions, technology has alienated people
      to such an extent that they mistake technological and symbolic action
      for social/political action. This is the commodity stance. You buy a
      certain product, and you’ve made a political statement. You buy a
      car that runs on salad oil. It’s still a car! Or make a
      documentary. Where did we cross that line where we forgot that making
      a documentary about how everyone would like to have a food co-op is
      not the same as having a food co-op? I think some people have lost
      that distinction. Now, about art in the service of the revolution:
      There is no art in the service of the revolution, because
      if there’s no revolution, there’s no art in its service. So to
      say that you’re an artist but you’re progressive is a schizo
      position. We have only capital, so all art is either in its service
      or it fails. Those are the two alternatives. If it’s successful,
      it’s in the service of capital. I don’t care what the content is.
      The content could be Malcolm X crucified on a bed of lettuce. It
      doesn’t matter.

      Bleyer: But what about the growing protest movement of the past five
      years, which really does seem significant?

      Wilson: You mean people who are building puppets and going around the
      world being radical tourists?

      Bleyer: The perhaps one million people coming to the streets of New
      York to protest the RNC in August, for example.

      Wilson: Well, make it two million. It can be like the biggest anti-
      war marches ever held, they were forgotten five minutes later. All
      they’re doing is assuaging their conscience a little. At best,
      it’s symbolic discourse and it never goes beyond that. Especially
      in North America. It’s not going to save the world to dump Bush and
      these people are deluded.

      Bleyer: What do you think about Burning Man and other events that are
      in essence Temporary Autonomous Zones (TAZ) but don’t necessarily
      dismantle the power structures of global capital?

      Wilson: I’ve never been to Burning Man, but that’s just
      accidental, because I’ve given up travel. As far as I can tell
      it’s a lovely thing. I call those things "periodic autonomous
      zones." The thing about the TAZ is I didn’t invent it, I just gave
      it a name. I think it’s a sociological reality that groups of
      people will come together to maximize some concept of freedom that
      they share as naturally as breathing. When all the potential for the
      emergence for a TAZ is maximized, either because you’ve helped to
      maximize it or because your local situation has arrived at a certain
      point where it becomes possible, you’ll do it. Like I’ve said
      before, a TAZ is anywhere from two to several thousand people, who
      for as little as two or three hours or for as much as a couple of
      years manage to keep that mood going. And it’s incredibly vital.
      It’s vital that every human being should have some such experience,
      or else they’ll never know that another world is possible. So
      Burning Man is a kind of periodic autonomous zone. As soon as the
      first hint of commercialization or tiredness appears, then I would
      think the best thing to do is to close it down. Move on, reappear
      somewhere else. And ultimately, I do believe that another world is
      possible and that permanent changes could be made. But that’s
      different. That’s a revolution.

      Bleyer: You lived abroad for about 12 years, mostly in the Islamic
      world. What’s your perception of Islamic
      fundamentalists, "terrorists" and otherwise?

      Wilson: Certainly, these Islamic fundamentalists are of no interest
      intellectually. They have no ideas, they’re not anti-capitalist;
      they love technology and money. Ideologically, they’re not offering
      any alternatives to anything. By and large, they’re an imagistic
      froth that has very little to do with most people’s experience of
      Islam. In their manifestations as tiny terrorist groups, they don’t
      have much of a social role, only as symbolic figureheads, and
      that’s why their actual support in the Muslim world is rather
      shallow. Right now it depends largely on the fact that the Bushies
      have made the name of America stink forever in the nostrils of the
      world. When I was traveling in the East, I was always amazed at the
      unearned reservoir of goodwill toward Americans. It existed
      everywhere. Now I reckon they’d throw rocks at you.

      Bleyer: And do you think that’s irreparable?

      Wilson: Almost irreparable. Even the Vietnam War, which was still
      going on when I began my travels, never aroused this much hatred and

      Bleyer: Is there anything you could see altering the current course
      of the American empire?

      Wilson: Yes. If all our emotion for resistance could somehow pull us
      together instead of apart. This is the brilliant thing they’ve
      managed to doâ€"set us all at each other’s throats. If I think of
      the anarchist movement, we spend all our time screaming at each other
      over various sub-sectarian impurities we perceive in each other’s
      writing. That is what anarchist activity now boils down to. But
      it’s not entirely our faultâ€"when there’s no movement, there’s
      no movement. But a new coherence could appear. Frankly, I think it
      would have to be of a spiritual nature. It would have to involve a
      kind of fanaticism that would involve real sacrificeâ€"sacrifice of
      comforts, sacrifice of cell phones, sacrifice of this privileged life
      in the belly of the beast that we all acquiesce in. There’s a lot
      of symbolic discourse, but no action. I suppose that could come back,
      which is why I’m ready to cut slack for spiritual movements, which
      have nothing necessarily to do with religion.

      Bleyer: I’m curious about this intersection between the political
      and spiritual.

      Wilson: There are those of us who are usually called spiritualist
      anarchists. I’m willing to accept that label if I can have other
      labels as well. It’s a well-known fact that there’s no secular
      Luddite community anywhere. The only Luddite communities are
      Anabaptistsâ€"Amish, Mennonite, seventh day Baptists, all those kind
      of Germano-Anabaptist groups that originate in Pennsylvania. I guess
      it’s religious fanaticism. Well, we need some equivalent of that. I
      can only see that coming from what people would identify as a
      spiritual movement. Nowadays it would probably have to have a neo-
      pagan shamanic quality to it, but I think it would also have to keep
      the door open to people in the established religions who are
      rethinking their positions, including some Catholics. It would have
      to be very inclusive, non-dogmatic, and not involve any central cult
      of authority. It would have to be a spontaneous crystallization of
      all the pagan-LSD stuff we’ve been going through since the sixties.
      It will have to crystallize and provide this psychic power for self-

      Bleyer: Are you still a Sufi?

      Wilson: That’s a hard question to answer. No, I’m not a
      practicing Muslim. I don’t spend a lot of time saying my beads, but
      I don’t consider myself utterly broken away from all that. In fact,
      I have very good friends and allies within the Sufi movement.

      Bleyer: Who among other anarchist thinkers do you admire?

      Wilson: Rene Riesel in France is an admirable character. He’s faced
      with a jail sentence now in France for a heavily militant
      actionâ€"destroying genetically manipulated crops and possibly other
      things as well. Some of his followers are engaged in blowing up
      electric power lines. And Jose Bove, the farmer from the south of
      France, has done a lot of interesting stuff.

      Bleyer: What are you studying now?

      Wilson: I’m very interested in early Romanticism now. To me, the
      Romantics were the first people to consciously deal with these
      issues. Some of the most interesting aspects of this come from the
      early Romantic movement in Germany around 1795. The early German
      Romantics have been forgotten as a source for our movement,
      especially from an artistic point of view. They informed all the art
      movements since then, the ones that tried to do what Hegelians call
      the "suppression and realization of art"â€"suppressing art as an
      elitist consumption activity of the wealthy, suppressing it as
      something that alienates other people who aren’t artists and makes
      them less important or less significant, and somehow universalizing
      it. That’s the realization or art, so that somehow or another
      everyone is an artist or some sort, fully free and encouraged to be
      as creative as possible. There’s no privileged position to the art
      that ends up in galleries or museums. That would be the suppression
      and realization of art, and that was basically a Romantic program and
      a program of every avant-garde art movement since then. They’ve all
      begun by saying, "We hate art as alienation, we want to restore it
      somehow to the kind of universal experience that we sense, for
      example, among a tribe of pygmies, where everyone is a singer and no
      one leads the singing." That goal has been there for every single art
      movement since Romanticism.

      Bleyer: What have you experienced personally of TAZ realities, lately?

      Wilson: A lot of people tell me that they have enjoyed or benefited
      from my work, for which I’m naturally very pleased. But in a lot of
      cases they have very different tastes than I do. I’m a sixties guy.
      I don’t like industrial music or even rock ’n’ roll. I am
      willing to accept rock ’n’ roll as an orgiastic music, but I
      think it’s disgusting that I have to have orgiastic music spewed at
      me from every single orifice of modern civilization, all the time,
      nonstop, to make me buy more products and lose my intellectual acuity
      and start shopping. I also don’t like the drugs that they useâ€"I
      prefer mushrooms and pot. I don’t enjoy raves. The ravers were
      among my biggest readersâ€"they’re now getting a little old
      themselves. Personally, I don’t enjoy those parties. This is a
      matter of taste. I’m happy that they’re happy, but I don’t want
      to go to the party. I’m not 20-years-old anymore, I get tired. But
      fine for them. Terrific. I wish they would rethink all this techno
      stuffâ€"they didn’t get that part of my writing. I think it would
      be very interesting if they took some of my ideas about immediatism
      and the bee. Small groups should do art for each other, and stay out
      of the media as much as possible, and this will eventually cause a
      buzz and make people want to be part of it. I’m waitingâ€"maybe
      before I die there will be a hip Luddite movement. I’ll probably
      like their parties and go to them. But it’s not happening. Most of
      the people interested in TAZ tend to be very techno-oriented. But as
      I say, if they’re having a good time, God bless them. Allah bless
      them. Goddess bless them. Just bless them. I think that’s terrific.
      It’s important to have those TAZ experiences. If you didn’t, you
      wouldn’t know what there is to struggle for.

      Wilson’s books are available from Autonomedia, www.autonomedia.org.
      His next book of essays, Lost Histories, will be out this fall.

      Jennifer Bleyer is a journalist and activist who lives in Fort
      Greene. She is the founder and former editor of Heeb Magazine.



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