I write this in order to provide a context for the contents of Radical Response. I write this in an effort to provide readers with an understanding of the real live human being behind the digital glow of your devices. In reading this, one might find something in my personal story that resonates, explicates, or serves as some common ground upon which new relations & exchanges of ideas might occur.
No matter how long one lives, how much one learns, how life experiences change a person, & regardless of how easy these days in a world more virtual than real in many crucial ways it may be to alter or outright create a persona or to play myriad virtual &/or socially required roles, everyone is indelibly & profoundly shaped by where they come from, their upbringing, & all their familial & personal baggage, for better or worse.
I am a first-generation Cuban-American, born just days after man landed on the moon, a month before Woodstock & the Manson murders. As the son of political refugees, immigrants who arrived with a few suitcases, the clothes on their backs, less than $50 & idealistic notions about this country shaped by years of American propag&a & myth-making that painted the USA as the shining light of democracy, freedom, & limitless opportunity – I invariably grew up a believer in the system. As in most immigrant families, education, both self- & formal was valued above all else. Early memories often leave particularly strong imprints that one never shakes, & they often speak volumes about the adult one later becomes. My earliest memory is of my mother testing my knowledge of the countries & capitals of Europe while still a toddler, before I could even speak English (only Spanish was spoken at home). Another early but vivid memory is of my father (who worked with the Cuban Revolutionary Government’s Central Economic Planning Board before growing disillusioned with Castro’s authoritarianism by 1967) & godfather (whose older brother was shot by the fascists during the Spanish Civil War/Revolution), & other assorted Cuban exiles playing dominos while sipping Cuban coffee, smoking cigars & cigarettes as I sat on the floor & listened intently, a little afraid of the raised voices but entranced by the passion with which they argued about politics, history, revolution, & both America’s greatness *&* wasted potential. I also remember my father & I would regularly watch the news, Star Trek & the documentary series World at War. At an early age I witnessed combat footage from Vietnam & had learned about Nazis & the holocaust – my father exposed me to adult material with the best intentions. While baptized & nominally Catholic, & despite briefly attending Baptist Sunday School (where I proudly resisted the peer pressure to heed the alter call & accept Jesus as my personal savior), I never trusted traditional nor had any interest in religion, although I was thoughtful & sensitive & did already have questions regarding the meaning of life & death. I grew up with a mother obsessed with New Age, occult, pagan, wiccan, paranormal, shamanistic, Native American, Taoist, Buddhist, & Santeria beliefs, & with a father who was a strident atheist. I took after him aside from a brief flirtation with Catholicism (& fascism) in my late teen years, & my father’s & my own common sense had convinced me that my mother’s beliefs were somewhat silly – at worst a waste of time mostly based on wishful thinking. Despite my father’s militant anti-communism, he agreed with Marx’s famous quote about religion being the opium of the masses. My father’s politics ranged from the far right to the far left & often left me confused, but always left me asking questions.
“…Here we are now entertain us…” – Kurt Cobain
By college I embodied many of the stereotypical character traits associated with “Generation X”. The generation of people weened on tv, who were latch-key kids, who were aware of the threat of nuclear annihilation, who experimented with alcohol & drugs way too young, who were constantly bombarded with the jingoistic propaganda of the Reagan era & who, if thoughtful, particularly suffered from terminal boredom, moodiness, pre-mature cynicism, misdirected anger, & who felt uncomfortable with the greed is good zeitgeist of the 80s. This generation was the first for whom there was no guarantee that life would be more easy & comfortable than it was for the generation before. Enough of us turned sarcasm, irony, & a refusal to do what was expected into an art-form – earning criticism & the derogatory label “slackers”.
For me apathy, cynicism, self-conscious irony, or even the wittiest sarcastic remarks couldn’t get rid of the almost constant existential angst. Underneath the attitudes & styles of Generation X & underneath my own awkward rebellious stance, there was in reality a sense of deeply disappointed idealism, sad frustration about the state of the world, & a wish to have a life that mattered. Like many, but particularly bothersome to me, I struggled with feelings of simultaneously wanting to be accepted while also growing comfortable with, & then proud of the fact that I never quite fit into any clique or in-group. I was permanently aggravated by the lack of seriousness of my peers, the lack of real alternatives in politics, in pop culture, & in music – until I discovered punk rock at least. I obsessed over finding ways to not earn a living, but have a life, & chose to – actually needed to – self-medicate with alcohol, drugs, & rock’n’roll.
“Oh well, whatever, nevermind…” – Kurt Cobain
“No future..”-Johnny Rotten
For me Nevermind & Never Mind the Bollocks were the most played soundtracks to the movie of my inner life. “My Generation” & “Break on Through” got me started, but now I was older. I felt an instant inexplicable affinity with artists that destroyed – themselves or “the system” in some way or other. I greedily consumed any drug I could get my hands on, eventually settling into the life of a full-time heroin addict – all while going to school, working no-stress part-time jobs, & trying to find some creative outlet first through random acts of property destruction, then in a band, then through my writings & art, desperately trying to connect with others who felt the emotions I felt, trying to find some answers or purpose in life.
Many who knew me & worked horrible full-time jobs they hated, considered what they did the “real world” & with obvious resentment in their voices called what I was doing “slacking” & had no respect for me since I didn’t have a boss, a horrible commute, low wages, & constant stress. In spite of the hedonistic life-style, my so-called “slacking” resulted in the accumulation of an extensive formal education, where I embraced knowledge for its own sake regardless of whether it would land me a job or not. I was good at academics. I was intoxicated by readings of philosophy, political theory, history – you name it. I loved & still love learning. I could have cared less that my learning wasn’t setting me up for some generic, middle-management, cubicle-confined “career”. I earned a B.A. in International Relations (history minor – cum laude, dean’s list every semester, membership in Phi Beta Kappa, Sigma Iota Rho, Phi Alpha Theta, academic honor societies & named a Bennett Scholar); I earned a Master’s in Public Administration, specializing in International Development (Master’s Thesis was a study of development in Cuba 1959-89 – membership in Pi Alpha Alpha academic honor society). The former gave me a broad knowledge of the humanities, while the latter disturbingly opened my eyes to the true damage done by colonialism, imperialism, & the truth that lesser developed nations were still at the mercy of the American empire, transnational corporations, & were pawns in the game of international geopolitics, exploited for cheap labor & natural resources. I also completed two years of PhD work in Political Science (my career was cut short first by lack of funding, then by my love affair with the needle), & later two years of work towards a Master’s in Library Science (cut short by mental breakdowns). I still worked part-time, became politically active on the radical left, & increasingly suffered from undiagnosed Bi-Polar II Disorder. In spite of my critics, I firmly believe that I was very much operating in the “real world”. I’ve also learned much from my few travels including time in Panama & an illegal trip to Cuba (where I did research & volunteered my labor on a collective farm).
Like many Gen Xers, my work experience reflects my discomfort with the whole notion of “career building” & official definitions of success. Some might label me an underachiever. I’ve worked at a toy store, a homebrew shop (where I learned the infinitely valuable skill of beer & wine-making), taught at a university, did graduate research, washed dishes in a convalescent home, worked the register as a video store clerk, dug up artifacts as an archaeological field-worker, worked at a university library, cleaned litter boxes at the humane society, was a clerk at a couple of record stores, painted houses alongside Mexican illegals (who truth be told, worked harder & faster than I could ever hope), & busted my ass at Amazon.com during its early days (ironically, where I both won an award for outstanding initiative & later helped the unionization effort by leaking a damaging internal anti-union memo intended for manager’s eyes only to the New York Times, as well as doing anonymous interviews with the press denouncing & describing the deplorable working conditions).
“Boredom is counter-revolutionary”- Situationist International
I’m not boring for sure. If I were to label myself politically it would be Pro-Situ Neo-Marxian Libertarian Council-Communist Zenarchist. It’s a difficult position to coherently espouse but I take joy in the struggle & contradictions. With historical materialism and the dialectic at the core, I draw from the rich tradition of leftist thought and filter those ideas through the ethics of Buddhism, my life experiences, what’s going on in the world right now – hopefully finding new ways to critique the existing system, new ideas on how to fight it, and continue to think about how to bridge the gap between what is and what could be. I’m a member of the International Organization for a Participatory Society (www.iopsociety.org) Delaware Chapter. Before renouncing vangaurdism, I was a founder in 1992 of the University of Delaware chapter of the Young Socialist Alliance, the youth wing of the Trotskyite Socialist Worker’s Party. I was a past supporter of the now defunct Love & Rage Anarchist Federation, the Northeastern Federation of Anarcho-Communists, the Movimiento Libertario Cubano, the EZLN, Occupy Delaware, Occupy Wall Street, & the Icarus Project – as well as more mainstream organizations like Amnesty International, the Sierra Club, & the ACLU. (My affiliation with these groups was never an end in itself – reformism, while obviously limited, can be necessary stop-gaps that can in some cases open the field for more radical, total critiques & demands, as well as improve people’s lives in the here and now).
I am also a Buddhist-Atheist – Buddhism provides a rational, experientially verifiable, positive, humanist, compassion-based, logical, relevant, universally applicable, inclusionary, ethical path coupled with a profound understanding of the nature of reality & existence – & ontologically fits neatly with the latest discoveries in quantum physics. Buddhist principles also fit near-seamlessly with the basic principles of participatory, anti-authoritarian socialism – if a new world is to be built it will require both inner & outer revolutions. Libertarian communism informed by Buddhism could be a fruitful marriage conducive to such revolutions in consciousness as well as in society.
“Directionless so plain to see, a loaded gun won’t set you free. So you say…”- Ian Curtis
My voice is not a pose. It will be attacked &/or ignored. It might be dismissed as the ravings of a mentally ill failure. My views, my voice, are more than the sum of their parts. I’ve been shaped by my family, the generation I grew up in, my experiences with drugs (both positive & negative), my education, travel, my spiritual beliefs, & most definitely by my experiences dealing with what is considered by many to be mental illness, however the mainstream defines it. I have lost nearly every friend I’ve ever had at least twice & suffered through years of near total isolation & loneliness, when I would curse the fact that I just didn’t understand what it took to have stable human relationships & handle emotions. Losses in my romantic life drove me nearly to suicide. I was a victim of the psychiatric-pharmaceutical industries & was coerced to ply my body with dozens of medications for over a decade. I have been institutionalized 4 times for mental issues & co-morbid substance abuse issues as well as being compelled to attend out-patient therapy sessions. I’ve had 7 therapists only 1 of which was worth a damn. I was used like a lab rat by four different psychiatrists, their only apparent concerns being the testing of new meds & protecting their professional lives as their “treatments” didn’t seem to work for me. Case in point – my last psychiatrist dropped me as a patient (as did my incompetent therapist) the moment it seemed I may actually kill myself – said act would have meant formal investigations of their treatment plans for me, & may have resulted in suspensions, let alone the harm to their reputations. My therapist actually lectured me about all the trouble it would cause HIM if I killed myself – this coming from the same professional that attributed many of my “issues” to my “anti-social lifestyle & extremist political views”. The “care” I received included being subjected to electro convulsive “therapy” & dumped into a third-rate treatment facility with incompetent doctors & counsellors more concerned with indoctrinating & recruiting me into the 12 step cult than with my life-long mood & sleep issues & pesky urge to die.
I somehow survived the darkness & have grown to accept that I will always think, feel, react, & behave very differently & sometimes unpredictably compared to most people. I found new human relationships to end my years of exile. I react more easily & more intensely than most, enduring alternating flights of racing thoughts, great expectations, limitless imaginings, explosions of furious self-righteous anger, sensations of immense existential & social discomfort & bouts of depression so dark & abysmal that I rush towards self-negation, total surrender, or wallow in nihilism. These times are not just uncontrolloable responses to the random events that come from being human, they’re often & repeatedly triggered by just reading the news or by thinking about the needless suffering & injustices experienced by billions of other humans. They are radical responses that are outside the bounds of the socially, personally, or politically acceptable – but they’re my responses, human responses.
“Imagine…”- John Lennon
It’s been said that problems can never be solved by using the same type of thinking that caused them in the first place. That’s as true for the personal as for the political. What’s needed now for the world to change from individuals to nation-states is a higher, or at least radically different level of thinking. I have to believe that what I believe & how I express myself, & that I’m even bothering to express myself matters. I am a human being & I need to connect with others. I need, like all of us deep down, to feel like my time on earth has some positive purpose. I believe my voice is worth hearing & that a better world is worth fighting for. I believe I am *not* alone. I believe that regardless of my emotional sensitivities/instability, that I can & should do whatever is in my power to do to change myself for the better & that can’t be seperated from doing whatever is in my power to do – to provide a response to those who control the power & wealth of this world. People like me are like canarys in the coal-mine. With the world in the condition it’s in, & with my life as it is, only a radical response – sometimes rational, sometimes not – to all of it might possibly offer new perspectives, solutions, or be a source of new relationships, ways of thinking & living, & maybe be the only true way out. My personal journey, my inner revolution is ongoing; my unique relation to the so-called outside, objective world is that of a person caught in the flux, able to see what could be, but struggling to find ways to expose that what is, is terribly wrong but not un-changeable. The power held by those who control the system & their ingrained habits/modes of thought can only ever truly be challenged by a theory & practice of life that strikes at its roots; it’s time to redefine what’s “normal” or “acceptable” or “natural”. It’s time for all of us to struggle with ourselves & to challenge the way the world is organized, from within our own minds to the corridors of power.
I may be crazy. Maybe not. But I do know what the hell I’m talking about most of the time. With luck, this blog will reflect where I came from, what I’ve been through, what I’ve learned along the way, & what I’m still learning. I hope others may find in my experiences & knowledge something that speaks to them, something that we can share. The more of us who connect one another, through sharing our stories & our ideas, the greater the chance we can change the world.
Michael P. Pelaez 1/16/15