Sunday, April 27, 2014

When There's A

When there's a trap set up for you
In every corner of this town
And so you learn the only way to go is underground
When there's a trap set up for you
In every corner of your room
And so you learn the only way to go is through the roof

- Gogol Bordello, Through the Roof N Underground

* * *

When I lived in Hungary a million years ago I was asked this question by way of indoctrination to the culture in the waning days of Communist rule: What is the definition of a Hungarian?

The answer: A Hungarian is someone who enters a revolving door behind you and exits in front of you.

Time to be Hungarian.

* * *

The world that surrounds, the cultural norms and expectations - from your immediate family to the broad arcs of commerce, entertainment and politics - has very little use for you and your own sense of self, of becoming who you might be. There are jobs to fill. Debt to fall into. Politicians to elect. It is the way of things. You are to become what others need you to be: a consumer of their ideas about the who, what, where, when and why of life. If you agree to these terms some day you'll own a home as big as a house. Promise.

Don't read that wrong. I am a strong advocate for food and shelter. What I want you to consider though are the means by which those goals are reached.

There are pernicious platitudes about finding happiness in doing the work you love, a horrific misreading of Campbell's "Follow you bliss." It is a decidedly white, privileged, smug, suburban, faux-intellectual, bullshit approach to the central question each is faced with and must answer at some point in their lives: How am I to live?

Here's my answer: as a Hungarian, as a subversive.

Do you think migrant workers - in this country or any other - are following their bliss? How about the woman who cleaned the hotel room you stayed in? Or the cabbie or the short order cook? Would you be blissed out doing that work? None of us would be. But those who take on those dirty jobs at least know why they are doing it: so someday their kid doesn't have to, or they get themselves through school, or they bust tail and own the joint. And that is a wildly subversive act. You think I am only this? Wait til you see what's coming.

* * *

When cultural conformity becomes the default response to the day-to-day requirements of living, then the responsibility of the individual is to resist such pressure and subvert its expectation. Camus said,  "The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion." I say, the only way to deal with a fucked up world is to unfuck yourself.  By unfucking your life you set yourself free from the constraints that have bound you, be it love, abuse, poverty, unwilling compliance, religiosity - any of it. An unfucked life thinks for itself and that is what makes you a subversive. It is how you exit the revolving door.

Despotism and totalitarianism are not simply political and historical artifacts. They exist inside families, inside work places, schools - anywhere people congregate someone will want to decide what is best for others. Like I said, I am all for food and shelter, traffic laws and the need to have the water safe, the runways clear and the trains on time. Right on. This is the best of what we can accomplish together. But after that, once it gets into modes of living, of what is acceptable, normal, productive - well, fuck that. But, I am just one in a sea of many. Resistance is futile. Except it is not. Resistance is imperative. No one needs another fucking lawyer to show up on the scene. What we need are revolutionaries - those who have figured out how to live and pursue their essential selves in such a way that their freedom does not impinge, limit or harm anothers'. This isn't political. It is a spiritual pursuit - not toward any religion's god, but to one's own sense of belonging in the world, of belonging to the world and it belonging to you.

* * *

Ev'rybody's talkin' 'bout
Bagism, Shagism, Dragism, Madism, Ragism, Tagism
This-ism, that-ism, ism ism ism

* * *

The various isms in the world are attempts to get the world to bend to someone's will. It never works. Not completely. Here's why: someone always survives and tells a different story.

The Magyars have been under the heel of invaders ever since they settled the large bowl of what we call Hungary: Tartars, Turks, Hapsburgs and Soviets. When it was part of the Austrian empire the Hungarian language was dying out. Then the puffy-lipped geniuses in Vienna outlawed the Hungarian language and demanded only German be spoken. The language that was dying on its own came roaring back to life with a massive influx of new words and applications.  Like others behind Churchill's Iron Curtain, Hungarians learned to live with their oppressors and provided whatever show was demanded of them, but in private, away from spying eyes, they rebelled, finding ways to re-exert their individual experience, if only for themselves, regardless of the external forces demanding conformity. Not everyone, of course. Plenty of collaborators, but there were enough to prove the point: all of man's freedom's can be taken from him except one - the freedom to choose how to respond to his circumstance.

I ask you to consider a life as a subversive. The pay can be lousy, but the fringe benefits are what give the next generation hope.

* * *



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