As the new year approaches I have many a goal in place, set to make this coming year a year of growth in knowledge and health. One of those goals is to read a lot more than I am now. I’ve read a few books in my day, don’t get me wrong, but the list of “want to read” is endless. I just never make time for them, because I’m too busy wasting time. Not this year! That’s all going to change. But not only do I want to read all these books, I want to retain information from them. So in order to keep my mind fresh and tuned in and also share my readings with others who may be interested in them, I intend to do little write ups of each book. To share my favorite passages, maybe talk about what I took away from it, or what I absolutely hated about it. Really anything. I’m not going to force myself to do anything too particular, but just something to retain a little information and really take away something from everything I read. So, I figured I would begin building this habit and get started now, even before the new year arrives. I read a few incredible books this year, but I just recently finished one and am about to finish another, so I can report on those. Maybe I’ll go back later and report on the others I read. Maybe not. We’ll see.
So let’s jump right in. Over the span of a week in December I read a little book called “Sober Living for the Revolution – Hardcore Punk, Straight Edge, and Radical Politics” edited by Gabriel Kuhn. This book is a collection of interviews, essays and manifestos mostly discussing the ties of sober living with radical politics. I wanted to read this book, not because I’ve ever been particularly interested in the “straight edge” music scene, but because I wanted to be able to better articulate my political reasoning behind being a straight edge individual. A lot of the book was discussing issues in the “scene” which I didn’t have too much interest in, because I either wasn’t alive or was in my early years of infant-hood when they took place and really just because the music scene behind straight edge and the community that it is linked with is not what I cling to. (But I can imagine that all of the music scene information would be really interesting to someone who was a part of this scene or is a part of the current music scene attached to straight edge… and I would like to say that I really appreciated some of the critiques to the music and show scene behind straight edge as many of the things referenced in a negative light are things that turned me away from being or claiming edge for quite some time). But overall, I was more interested in reading about how people connect their straight edge lifestyles with their political stances.
When I first decided to get sober, it was entirely for personal reasons. I did not identify with or really even understand radical politics at that time, so my initial reasonings for taking on sobriety or the “straight edge” lifestyle had absolutely nothing to do with politics (or so I thought). But shortly after I made this decision I also started getting involved with the local radical community and started developing my personal politics. Really latching onto the ideals of anarchism and feminism (as well as veganism, but that came way before anything else) straight edge just kind of made sense and in my head it all aligned as being connected. But actually explaining ‘why’ was never something I was good at. I think this book had a lot of insight and really put my feelings down on paper to help me better explain myself. Granted, there was plenty I didn’t care for and even things I downright didn’t agree with, but I absolutely took a lot away from the book and see it as a really good reference point for me when I’m trying to articulate why I like to keep my edge political.
I’d like to reflect on a few of my favorite quotes and passages from the book that either really help sum up my ideas or are just rad things to remember.
In Ian MacKaye’s interview he stated “I also think that the sexual transgression plays a massive role in the consumption of alcohol. People drink to enter into situations that are not necessarily good for them. I feel that people should always be present.” And a Swedish political activist named Tanja stated “Even for us women with a feminist analysis, living drug free was seen as part of our individual liberation – taking control of our bodies, being independent, developing strength.” These statements really resonated with me. One of the personal reasons I decided to give up drinking was because of the person I became and the things that I did when I was intoxicated, that I would not do in a sober state. I was really uncomfortable with how out of control I was with my own body. Being present, being conscious and aware, developing that independence and strength became very important things to me. I never saw those things as being political then, but being of a feminist frame of mind now, it all meshes together very well.
Point of No Return’s essay “Bending to Stay Straight” had a couple passages that I found particularly powerful. Long, but powerful. Tying together how straight edge is in defiance of capitalist culture and state control and its relativity to veganism’s stance against the same processes of exploitation towards animals. A few of those passages being:
“Her perspective on SXE held, as it was with the purifying firestorm, the incorporation of veganism as an obvious extension of the SXE position. Meat, egg and dairy industries constituted an extremely powerful economic enterprise that placed profits above any consideration for the death and suffering of millions and millions of animals, nor for the destruction – as a result of the enormous waste of natural resources and the devastating pollution of air, soil and water on a frightening scale – of the environment which sustains all forms of life in this planet. The vivisection industry was undoubtedly one of the most cruel human actions against non-humans, disguised by the mask of “Knowledge” and legitimated through the authority of scientists that worked with one eye on the microscope and the other on the research funds that allow them to comfortably persist in their bloody career as executioners. The entertainment industry, in turn, was responsible for jeopardizing the beauty and enchantment of such important cultural manifestations as circuses by condemning animals, whose instincts demand freedom and socialization, to lives of confinement and isolation. The act of ceasing to consume the products of all this misery was a simple gesture that represented a very significant self-exclusion from systematic processes of exploitation.”
“But, differing from the same model, to be SXE in her eyes had nothing to do with a personal decision; being straight was deeply embedded in a way of living that was compatible with the revulsion she felt against capitalism. Everyone knew that drug use, be it legal or not, comprised astronomic amounts of money. Stimuli for consuming it were found everywhere, and the consumption was never presented as something which people might do (eventually and with much due caution) in search of new sensorial experiences. People, especially young, were deliberately driven to drug use in order to acquire social and sexual status in the eyes of others. And such consumption was satisfactory for the elite because drugs were an efficient mechanism for state control, convenient for sending the criminal, those who threaten the system, to jail – or cemetery.”
“SXE in the perspective that the young woman had built with her group of friends was, in total, the person who would stand for the end of all forms of oppression and discrimination. It was the person who defended the inalienable right for self-determination of peoples that still undergo the humiliation of political intervention and that often find themselves in the difficult position of having to fight tanks with stones, missiles with shotguns. It was the person who fought to overthrow all fences that had privatized property of the few out of that which had once existed for everyone . It was thttp://www.linuxmint.com/start/lisa/he person committed to recall our collective memory, as a frightening denunciation that the problem was still not overcome, the singular experience of suffering of those who felt the weight of whips in the sadistic game of torture. It was the person who strived for seeing, through critical eyes, the subtle screens, masked by the seduction of entertainment, that bring the necessary ideological charge to assure the perpetuation of the imperialist hegemony. It was the person who felt revolted by the sad irony of the suicidal capitalist society that, as if voluntarily placing its neck in the gallows, first produces the victims of its system through its insatiable greed for wealth, only to be later unforgivably victimized by these very victims. It was the person who regretted the bloody history of our colonial past, in which the price paid for the futile silver mirrors, brought by the white people to be traded, represented an irreparable loss of millions of lives from thousands of nations. It was the person that believed in the structuring of a system of flexible creeds and stances as a fundamental principle for the organization of a collective resistance, the only bridge capable of guiding us to a world of more cooperative and just values. Some positions, reflected the young woman, among hundreds of others…”
In Bruno Teixeira’s interview he explains things in a very approachable manner, which is something I really appreciate. “The basic pillars were: no to alcohol, no to tobacco, no to drugs, no to dependency, no to a system of exploitation which sees you as a commodity and who acts as an oppressor.”
“Punk and sXe have the exact same purpose: to defy a system that controls you and to provide a social alternative based on true values, a true sense of freedom, and the absence of oppression. The difference was the abstinence that sXe preached, which contradicted the habits of most early punks. sXe introduced the notion that sobriety, a clear conscience, and a rejection of drugs and intoxication (the system’s poisons) can make it easier to develop a true (r)evolutionary consciousness and to have a deep impact on society.
In a world completely dependent on intoxication, sXe is a weapon of political resistance, it’s the “UnDiscipline.” the exact opposite of what millions of people do who consume products and have so-called “fun” at the expense of millions of suffering human beings and animals. This has very concrete dimensions, for example when indigenous populations are forced to run away from their homelands to plant drug or tobacco crops. The social costs of alcohol and tobacco are horrendous: alcohol as a drug is responsible for millions of deaths by car accidents and countless beatings in our homes; tobacco causes not only diseases in human beings but is also the excuse to intentionally infect innumerable animals with these diseases for “research purposes.” And often enough the corrupt, greedy, and deadly industries behind these substances have connections to right-wing parties and so on.
This is the reality that sXe turns against, and that punk should turn against too. Both ideologies have a lot in common and I truly know that a lot of people who are not sXe do a great deal of excellent things. I just wish we could all move to the next level and stop supporting companies and substances that are not only dangerous and deadly but that also support a system of constant oppression. Those in power know that you are more dangerous when you are sober than when you are drunk, and they do a very effective job in keeping you separated from the real thing, in keeping you from fighting their rules and from fighting for those in need. They relentlessly force more and more products you don’t need onto you and your home.”
We are more dangerous when we are sober, and I wish more people could see just how important that is. It’s as simple as having a clear conscience. It’s a simple game of power. We already have the underhand, but we give up what little power we have everytime we give away our self control and place it in their pockets.
One of my favorite quotes from the whole book also came from this interview with Teixeira: “I was born without asking and I will die without wanting, but I’m really sure I made the best of what lay in between!” I hope to never forget this because it’s a very simple reminder of why I make the choices I make everyday
Moving on to Jonathan Pollock’s interview:
“I was initially attracted to Straight Edge by the need to distance myself – mentally, emotionally, and politically – from the culture of my contemporaries; a culture obsessed with money and commoditization of leisure and personal interaction rather than with the freedom; a culture in which the most upsetting thing you could do was to reject manufactured leisure.”
We get to places sometimes where we have to completely start over, with new people in our lives, because kids my age, generally want to drink and party and waste time being wasted. And frankly, I have more important things to do with my time. More productive ways to spend my money (or not spend it). The idea of manufactured leisure never even crossed my mind back when I used to drink. It was just the way you spent your evenings.
“Put again in the simple terms of a teenager, Straight Edge is the ultimate Fuck You.”
You can say that again!
But really, the most important quote I took out of this book was this: “The real issue I recognize concerns not the on-the-ground economic circumstances of these products – these can indeed be circumvented – but rather the place that these substances hold within our culture, and what it means to reject them.” I can relate this to so much more than just sobriety and the rejection of intoxicants. I can relate it to veganism and the rejection of animal products. I can relate it to feminism and the rejection of societal beauty standards. I can relate it to anarchism and the rejection of authority and government… really anything that involves rejection of something that holds high place in our culture. Which seems to be everything I hate. It’s easy to get caught up in the thought that your rejection, your boycott of something doesn’t really harm the producer of that product. So it’s nice to be reminded that it doesn’t always have to be about that, it can simply be about what it means to reject them, and the power behind that. To continue that thought: “You just can’t beat the system from within. For some reason, this is a commonly held view among anarchists with respect to say, electoral politic, but not so much when it comes to cultural issues – where I think it’s even more applicable.”
From CrimethInc.’s “Wasted Indeed: Anarchy and Alcohol” comes this gem that hits much too close to home: “Think of the power we could have if all the energy and effort in the world – or maybe even just your energy and effort? - that goes into drinking were put into resisting, building, creating. Try adding up all the money anarchists in your community have spent on corporate libations, and picture how much musical equipment or bail money or food (-notbombs… or, fuck it, bombs!) it could have paid for – instead of funding their war against all of us. Better: imagine living in a world where cokehead presidents die of overdose while radical musicians and rebels live the chaos into ripe old age!” And how beautiful and idealistic that all sounds. If only people could see the beauty in what could come of a sober community. I know, it’s wishful thinking, but the fact that it’s wishful thinking is so sad. The fact that most of us cannot even picture a world without intoxicants, a world without bars, a world without drugs, is so fucking sad.
Nick Riotfag’s “Towards a Less Fucked Up World” had some pretty strong relevance for me. Another one of the main reasons that I decided to give up drinking in the first place, was because I needed to really feel the things I was going through. Because attempted escape through a bottle doesn’t get you anywhere. When you don’t allow yourself to feel that pain, you don’t allow yourself to grow. “I believe that our tasks as activists or people who feel a call to change this culture is first and foremost to be open to that deep pain, to feel it and mourn it and hate it, so that it lights fires in our chests that burn for our participation in revolutionary struggle”
And again, the reliance on consumer capitalism to get through the day, or to be able to have social interactions. “Beyond boring conversation, dependence on alcohol limits our social lives in other ways. In bar culture, public interaction is limited to contexts where we have to buy something in order to spend time with other people. It makes us less well equipped to enjoy one another’s company in ordinary mindsets or without corporate intervention. We bond over buying, consuming, numbing, and things rather than creating, experiencing, feeling, and personalities. Instead of challenging it, we accept the proposition that we need consumer capitalism to be able to “loosen up,” have a good time, and get past the hang-ups and self-restraint that constrain our lives.”
Or we could focus on the plain disgusting selfishness that’s tied to these habits.
“Tobacco is at the heart of the horrifically pathological global system of capitalist agriculture that prioritize the right of the First World people to poison themselves over the right of the Third World people to eat.”
But lastly, the final way that Nick Riotfag got to me was by bringing my deep love for Peter Pan into the mix. I identify as a “Lost Boy” and the meaning behind that goes very deep into my heart, and I don’t know how I never put together the beliefs behind Peter Pan’s magical Neverland and the idea of youth empowerment and liberation. Who would have thought that I could tie my unexplainable love for Peter Pan and the world of Neverland with my political reasonings for being radically sober. So I’ll end with this absolutely perfect quote:
“Maybe I don’t want the privilege that comes with adulthood to destroy my body legally. Maybe I don’t buy the argument that only adults – being naturally superior to kids, according to adult chauvinist logic – are responsible enough to handle getting fucked up. I think the impressive thing is being strong enough to survive without getting fucked up – if becoming an adult means accepting the need to numb myself into accepting the status quo, then fuck it, I’m following Peter Pan and never growing up.”