Kit Eginton

A New Year’s Postscript


Still from Unicorn Riot’s coverage of the George Floyd Uprising in Minneapolis

2020 is over, but our problems aren’t. Over the course of last year, the challenges of the 21st century became even clearer: capitalism, ecological degradation, fascism, race, caste, empire. But it is with absolute, unfeigned sincerity that I write that 2020 has given me wild hope. I’d like to share four thoughts I had this year that underlie this feeling.

Don’t take blackpills.

A blackpill is a line of thinking that leads to despair, that convinces you the only option is to lie down and rot (or to exact an impotent revenge—think Elliot Rodger).

The first thing to remember when you find yourself taking a blackpill is that if it didn’t feel true, it wouldn’t have convinced enough people for you to encounter it. There are false but convincing ideas. So while it might be legit, you shouldn’t trust that it’s true just because you can’t reason your way out of it.

The second thing is to think about all the other people who have taken blackpills you find absurd. For example, if you’re reading this, you probably don’t buy the incel blackpill, that any man below a five who’s not rich has no chance of a fulfilling, faithful relationship with a woman. But your blackpill may be just as incorrect as that one—it’s just one designed to appeal to your individual fears.

Emotions (affective structures) operate the same way irrespective of the scale of the reality they’re referring to. Climate despair relies on the affective structures of the uncanny, the fall from grace, and the consciousness that all things are mortal. Though the scale of the catastrophes that mark our era is unprecedented, the feelings that we experience about those disasters are not new. “Climate fiction,” the genre of stories that explore climate change, relies on tropes that have been used in family sagas, writings about the death of empire, religious texts, etc. for literally millennia. So avoid identifying the sense you have that all is lost with the reality; the map is not the territory, and in fact it was made to represent a bygone world. The feelings you have about climate are the same feelings as those others have had about other things since prehistory.

For this reason, it can be healing to consume media from earlier eras. You might think this is escapism, but no. By empathizing with characters who are having the same emotions you’re having, but about totally different problems, you can learn to disentangle your feelings from the material reality, look at the world clear-eyed, and keep your imagination free enough to find new ways to act. Part of the reason climate change is so scary is that it makes death feel real when we’re used to being able to ignore it. Make use of the tremendous resources culture has bestowed upon you to grieve death rather than despairing at it.

It could have been worse.

Yes, the response to the novel coronavirus in the countries where I lived this year (Russia and the US) was really poor. Yes, there is much to be dissatisfied with the world over. But. There are those who say that the world system has a pure, undiluted focus on the extraction of profit. That greed runs the world entirely. And while that may be true, the fact that governments have mounted large-scale responses, however meagerly, suggests some combination of three things: that capital is occasionally able to see beyond quarterly returns to longer-term benefit, or that forces from below have real, though insufficient, strength, or that behavior of elites is not wholly at the service of capital, that they care also about good governance. This doesn’t mean that we can afford not to overthrow the world system, but it does bode better than some doomers would claim for our ability to survive the next few decades. Every good decision our society makes counts, not just the failures.

The bright light of rebellion has been burned into our minds.

Images matter because they are the catalyst for intentional change, and the most important image of 2020 for me was the one that I saw around the end of May, as I sat in a dorm kitchen in Russia around 2 am and watched a Minneapolis AutoZone burn. Over the next few months, stories of the protests from friends and journalists kept this vision alight in my mind, like the gleam of a future victory shot back through the darkness. The George Floyd Uprisings have quieted down, but they showed us that we are not powerless before the violence and dispossession of racism. The cops are not the grown-ups, and we are not children. As I watched the protests from Russia, things became possible in my mind that were not possible before that night. This is part of why I moved back to the US.

It’s also worth noting one more image of the future, also particular to the US. The stimulus payment and increased unemployment payments of the early pandemic months were a very rough draft of what it could be like to be taken care of just because you deserve to be—as a human being, as a member of a society. We won’t forget that feeling, and I think we’ll want to feel it again.

The establishment is doing its best to recuperate the anti-capitalist, anti-racist, revolutionary feelings that circulated this year by blaming all the bad shit on Trump and the Republicans. But I’m not convinced that this escape hatch can be closed. My feeling on this is guided by the idea that minds are changed most readily in struggle. The future won’t be made by the girl with the hammer-and-sickle tattoo (though much love to you if you are that girl). The future will be made by those who need to find common cause to survive. As the 21st century goes on, that’s going to be more and more of us.

We are surrounded by objects that yearn to be used to liberate their makers.

When I got back from Russia in September, I felt like I was in the fucking Truman Show. I had just lost my adopted country and my job, and become physically distant from my girlfriend. My mom had loaded the AirBnB where I was quarantining, thoughtfully and lovingly, with food of a sort I hadn’t eaten regularly since high school, and placed new clothes she’d bought for me in the bedroom. All of this was very nice and privileged, and it felt absolutely miserable. It was like my whole life had been replaced by someone else’s, all at once. I was dissociating like crazy. I started to see visions of the walls around me rotting away. Sometimes furniture seemed to go transparent, as though I could see through it to its inevitable end-of-life. Everything was a sign of death. And the more everything in that nice apartment screamed at me “you’re safe,” the less safe I felt. I felt like the bathmat was trying to manipulate me. I didn’t trust the toaster.

This flirtation with psychosis was partially because I was disoriented from travel and world events, but partially a reaction to the fractured, dual quality that all commodities have. On the one hand, everything around you is made by corporations, by the powerful, and it’s all a manipulative tool for convincing you that you are safe but powerless—as though you were a ghost, as though you didn’t matter. On the other hand, all the objects around you are sources of genuine pleasure and power and survival for you as a person.

The first version of objects is made all the more sinister because many of them were made by people who were being viciously exploited. This is especially true of food and clothing and consumer goods. There is something sick about feeling safe (but powerless) because of an object that was produced by someone working in abject poverty.

But the second version of objects offers a way out. There is a scrap of the life-force of the downtrodden of the Earth in every object on this planet. If we use that life-force, that shred of power, to save ourselves and others, we are giving them back a portion of their lives.

Everything you love, everything that gives you life, everything that makes you want to live, can be a tool of protection and rebellion. This is because loving anything, even something problematic or corporate, teaches you something about who you are, where you come from, and what you want; this gives you a path towards creating a livable world. And when we use the love that objects seem to offer us to care for ourselves—not just consuming them, not using them only as coping mechanisms or to scratch an itch, but to remind ourselves we are people who count, who ought to be alive, who ought to be able to fulfill our desires—we reestablish relations of care with objects and with ourselves, which opens the possibility of caring for others.

My distrust of my kitchen appliances, my fear of being manipulated, stems from pains I suffered as a child. It is a demand for love-as-safety, love-as-unconditional-holding; it is black-and-white thinking. But this is not what mature love is. Love is not absolute safety. Love is committing to and honoring a thing while accepting that it cannot be perfectly trusted, that it will alter no matter how we try to make it stay.

Our relation to the objects around us may begin, when we are at our lowest, with us relying on them to save us in the way we would rely on a mother. But this reliance has the winking quality of a kink, because we are always aware that their power to save us is untrustworthy; as we grow stronger, the relationship grows more playful, more delicate, and a “recombinant poetry of use” emerges. For example: you create a playlist of songs you love for a friend. As you add and discard songs and work out the perfect order, your understanding of the music deepens. You become aware of how limited this music, which may have once helped save your life, really is—but at the same time your awareness sharpens of the precise nature of the power those songs do have, and at some point you find yourself in tears over tracks that for years had no longer had the power to provoke anything but a detached interest. In “taking what you like” from a mass-produced cultural object, in recombining the scraps of life force in it, and in sharing it, you have brought it back to life. This poetry of useful recombination allows us and our favorite things to grow and change together. A line of bicycles becomes a barricade; a steel garbage can lid is a noisemaker and a shield. Fugitivity and sabotage: you can use the wrench, given by your boss, made to repair the capitalist machine, to destroy that machine, and when you do so it becomes your wrench.

The world is full of tremendous power, embedded in objects, in the things we love, all around us. Play with it. Trust it, a little. Take what you want from it. Use it better than they could have bargained for.

Stay alive, talk to each other, get as strong as you can. We’re going to win.



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