LIKE THE DEVIL WALKING INTO HEAVEN
Crippling anxiety took the wheel at 6:05 p.m. It was a stormy Friday in December 2019 and I was more than halfway to San Jose, CA when I decided that I made a bad decision. My friend, fellow UCSC creative writing alumni and California Latinx poet, Angel Dominguez, had received the news early in the day that his chapbook, Desgraciado, was selected to be published as a full-length prose-poem hybrid novel with Nightboat Press. As a congratulatory gesture I said I’d attend his reading.
While my endeavors and struggles through treacherous weather for a friend may seem commendatory, in full disclosure, I was also motivated by guilt. A manuscript I submitted to that same press was rejected earlier that day. From early morning email onward, I wrestled with the bifurcate tension between my vocal pride for his success and private stewing of self-loathing and envy. All day I rationalized the compulsion to blame nepotism and work through the typical trappings of ersatz victimization. At the peek of my self-flagellations I had harbored the belief that publishers were targeting me—dare I say: conspiring. Finally, acceptance reigned by the time of the drive. But the guilt of having even hosting these thoughts that pitted me against one of my closest allies in this world was enough to mobilize.
Thus, my endangerment in driving to his reading was both congenial and extenuatory.
So, from San Francisco to San Jose in the dark at 80 mph through torrents of rain, and positioned somewhere between the Stanford Linear Accelerator and Google’s headquarters in Silicon Valley, the channel scanner of the car radio landed on a station broadcasting Trump’s psychobabble, anti-immigrant rhetoric. It might as well have been plagiarized global great replacement or white genocide forum feed. Between the intensity of concentration necessary for driving through this rare California doom-storm and the self-contempt of my economic class while passing through perhaps the wealthiest region of California, I had to turn off the radio promptly before involuntarily veering my car off the interstate and smashing into the staging of a Mars-landing at NASA Ames Research Center N-254.
I made it with five minutes to spare. There’s no pause in the rain as a Boeing 747 approached the runway of SJO airport, dispatching its landing gear above me. The ominous vibrations of its leviathan moan resonated moments after touchdown. I jogged along an empty street of dilapidated apartment complexes occupied by freshmen techies and low-income families, while hunkered into my peacoat as the rain produced halos around street lamps. Turning the corner toward an anarchist art gallery in the Japanese district, I entered just as Angel walked towards a microphone set up in the back. In the room were perhaps thirty young adults decorated with a variety of piercings, tattoos, and compulsory student/hipster appurtenances.
Angel paused after the introduction as he meditated over which poems to read. I knew this face, it was one confirmed after his reading: I’m gonna yell at some white people. He dove straight into Desgraciado—which is a series of prose-poem epistolary polemics addressed to Diego de Landa, the Spanish colonialist and Catholic missionary celebrated in Iberian history for his accounts of the Mayans and the pillaging of their treasures. (The latter was less openly celebrated, yet quietly apologized for.) Filled with contempt, abandon, and atonement, his emotional reading captured the room. After each recitation of the piece, he was met with a vacillation of reaction: half mesmerization and empowerment, half fear and violation. It happened every time I attended one of his readings. There’s tension that manifests from the declaration of unsolved racial conflict. Furthermore, there’s a tension resulting in the challenge brought out into the fore: It’s happening and what are YOU doing about it?
I promise it’s not a question of his writing. The merits of Desgraciado are nearly undisputable. With the re-publications and laudatory reviews, its quality is objectively clear. Instead, the tension vibrated on a deeper thread weaved within our shared experience in that room. The room itself was a distilled version of the subliminal, almost rhizomatic, racial, sex, and class divisions experienced and alive in our nation. In this room were some people in a confined space, some of whom were unwilling to meet Angel at what he had to bring to the table. Maybe, these reluctant few in that gallery were there to celebrate art, to applaud the phenomenal experience of existence, or to challenge other existing barriers, rallying behind another cause. Either way, the unrest was palpable. Anxiety suffused.
Ultimately, these few missed the point. The message was ultimately relatable to anyone in the room unless you were in fact a Spanish Conquistador—of which, ironically, I was probably the closest. Angel’s poetic epistolary notes to his ancestral oppressor were channeled in order to convey the shared mythic and symbolic anatomy within the stories we tell, the narratives we hold to, and the catacombs of our language within this Western world in which we were raised. But, he also challenges us to break the seal of complacency. He confronts our naivety, how we’re complicit in the proliferation of racial persecution, oppression, and alienation in our own passivity. And, as immigration activists are challenging the spaces of America outside, there are many who refuse to hear, there are many that still deny the implicit racism of our nation. To some, invitation is a trespass, so they continue to patrol the borderlands.
As Angel shook hands and met with a few of the attendees, I ruminated on the experience: In a world where specific races, genders, and class have not only become increasingly marginalized, but increasingly aware of their marginalization, there’s greater tension. With more globalization we begin to address the trauma of imperialism, genocide, human rights violations, famine, imprisonment, and the rapacious exploitation of resources. Reaction to injusted seems to backfire: contributing to the divisiveness and disunity. Somewhere in the lucana lies humanity. We have to reform the sub- and the liminal individually to solder them together with humanism. From this root stems a myriad of compulsions, some as subtle as the mute responses by the insulted audience of Angel’s reading, and some as violent as the rhetoric of the white supremacists.
Upon reflection, a piece he read from Desgraciado echoes, emerged from the noise:
I can’t keep working this job I’m working, it’s eating my language; it’s killing my soul. It’s hard to know what exactly I’m trying to say, or why I’m telling you. I think I’m asking you for help. How do I do it? How do I escape the life–how do I reclaim the language? The language of slow sunrise. The language of salt and blood. The language of 10,000 stones. The language of sleeping stars. The language that gives me my name. I hate the person I am when I’m working; I hate the suffering, everyone’s suffering. It’s exhausting. It hurts. It hurts so much I can’t sleep at night; I can’t dream late enough; wake up: sunrise. Just keep lining the language up together like dominoes; become a mechanism for enchantment; live the magic. That’s the dream right? It’s hard to know why I write to you anymore Diego. It’s so strange when I write your name on a curve of whiteness; it’s rare. I always want to mention to that Diego that, my Diego, stole my tongue; or murdered my ancestors. It’s hard to know how much you should share with a stranger. But while I’m at work. I maintain the white institution; I uphold the architecture of the oppressor so that I can pay rent. I want to tell people about you Diego, but I don’t want your name in my mouth; I don’t want anyone to know about you; I want you in/as ruin. I want you as absurd curiosity: maybe it was aliens, right? That’s what they said about my people and our structure: it was aliens man, it couldn’t have been brown bodies. And that’s it, maybe you were an alien. Right? People couldn’t have built those pyramids; no one could have (tried to) exterminate a language from a people. It must have been those space specimens. The don’t know abouts and made up vessels of white imagination. There’s too much to explain and really, I suck at writing letters. Often times I feel like I’m rambling and the tremors of caffeine delirium portray themselves through the awkward whimsy of the present language. But who cares. This pile of letters. This alien heart. This figure, this fugue, this dancing.
I thought about The Master. Who is my Diego? Who that could be? I started to panic. What the hell was going on? I wondered if I was a complete fool for having a modicum of optimism about our future. I was having terrible thoughts: Are we just a bunch of hipster imposters in this gallery? And beyond? Maybe, there’s a master out just for me who I can supplicate to, to submit to, to figure out exactly what they want, who could make the suffering end. But, this was just the vapidity of believing that there could be anything other than toil and estrangement for most of us. My focus dilated. It was them. They wanted to divide us, to keep us their desperate subjects. They’re conspiring.
And that’s it, maybe you were an alien. Right? People couldn’t have built those pyramids; no one could have (tried to) exterminate a language from a people.
Conspiracies are sinister. Predacious, conspiracy theists are the scavengers of society. Conspiracy thrives in the bottoms, where its roots tangle with prejudice in a symbiotic way. Not exactly twins, but feasibly partners, with similar objectives: to force control, dominate the narrative, disrupt subjectivity and parity. It’s a racket, like the devil walking into heaven.
PUTTING THE ALIEN IN ALIENATION
Recently, I was on a call with my friend in Nashville and informed them that I was writing an essay on a revelation from Angel’s reading. They laughed and asked me to repeat my subject again. So, I reiterated: Simply put—the conspiracy theory that aliens built the Mayan pyramids is racist. They scoffed, dismissing the idea. Unsure as to whether they thought it was an obvious, absurd, or invalid claim, I pressed them for an explanation. They replied, does it even matter? In fact, they thought, by engaging in the argument inversely made me as “weird” and “suspect” as the conspiracy theorists. In a way it was a feedback loop, affirming the conspiracy by giving it my attention.
It reminded of Maggie Nelson’s questioning of her commitment to researching the more carnal, disturbing aspects of human nature. “In any case, one thing seems clear: whether or not one intends for one’s art to express or stir compassion, to address or rectify forms of social justice, to celebrate or relieve suffering, may end up irrelevant to its actual effects,” (Nelson, 2012) she wrote. I believed that there’s a teeming pathology in our society today (for me, it’s the time of Trump; for her, it was Bush) which should be cathected and theraptized. The reality that conspiracy theories are about as commonplace as facts in this current administration supported the malady.
“But where is everybody?” my friend joked.
“I don’t get it,” I reply.
“Fermi… Fermi Paradox…”
I paused. “Do you think this sci-fi craze rose in tandem with income disparity?”
“I think the only thing being raised here is the red flag of your sanity.”
I thought for a brief moment about their dismissiveness. But, there’s something more to it. The belief that aliens built the Mayan pyramids is not only racist to its core, the surgical proclamation exposes the symptoms of disempowerment within our society. Despite the curiosity, imagination, and playfulness in extraterrestrial theories—however innocent they may seem—the Mayan alien conspiracy culminates in xenophobic belief: only aliens would have the guile and technological capababilities to build temples, formulate codexs, articulate an unique calendar, and develop a sophisticated language, not the indigenous people. As Angel poignantly writes:
I want you as absurd curiosity: maybe it was aliens, right? That’s what they said about my people and our structure: it was aliens man, it couldn’t have been brown bodies.
This is the type of revelation that snuffs out fanciful thoughts with stark reality. Almost exactly how I felt when I first read about how the twin towers collapsed on 911, except opposite: when realities were snuffed out by fanciful thoughts. It’s simple, really: Imperial, colonial, and supremacist spirit remains embedded in our civilization. Where best to embed itself than in conduits for blame and scapegoating like conspiracies. And despite the fact that we might be woken to the disparities in the world, it doesn’t excuse us from challenging the conventions, beliefs, customs, or politics we’ve come to value. It’s imperative to ask how these prejudices manifest, in whatever facet they occur. Only when the latent bias percolates can we see its ubiquity of toxicity in springs and pools.
For example: Personally, I’m horrified and humiliated about this topic. Back when I was in my early twenties, I once humored these conspiracies without the faintest consideration of their blatant prejudice. Especially as I identify as a Latinx (at least half) but am passable white, it only fuels the shame. I read and rummaged through the theories, never as a subscriber, but as a hobbyist, as a consumerist—not unlike one who indulges in cinema that’s artistic merit offers something short of an AV Club production. Without dovetailing into a marxist polemic, the involuntary participation in pernicious behaviors due to hivemind or groupthink is daunting, especially when learning of the consequences later. But, there’s no hiding this truth. We are entrenched.
When I tease out some of the other hobby conspiracies I’ve humored, I start to recognize these power relations and how they reflect bias. From 911 to Crimea to Hurricane Katrina to Kent the list of conspiracies stack up quick. I recall my investment in CIA coordination with Saudi Arabia to train ISIS soldiers, fomenting anti-Assad protests. One freelance journalist who found a megaphone through RT was my unimpeachable proof. I researched the legitimacy of The White Helmets, finding that they were in cahoots with ISIS. Then as I invested more into the history of the region, I realized whole framework of my beliefs occludes the fact that after World War II, the people of Syria and the surrounding nations had been ritually and systematically stripped of their agency, abused as Cold War pawns, subjected to famine, and brutalized by military conflict. A basic dive into the history of the region would suggest enough of a motive for these suffering communities to act out of desperation and rage. Was it a coincidence that France has been the most concentrated target of their egregious, heartbreaking campaigns of violence? Or, could it be that starting in 1920 the Syrians lived for two decades under French Mandate? Now, research U.S. and Russian involvement in the era before and after the Cold War. Tell me if you can perceive how the weaponization of narrative could occur then.
On one hand, it seems like intelligent, responsible behavior to question propaganda and information—whether that be PBS, TASS, or your shirtless druncle by the bbq. But, likewise we should recognize the limitations of understanding. We should recognize that knowledge works in accordance with our impetuous need to conflate information with insecurities and ephemeral emotions. Without diving too far in the epistemic deepend, knowledge, corroborated with heretic networks of verification and researched comprehensively from all subjectivities and perspectives, can be the best way to combat disinformation.
Disinformation is a quagmire, where our most caustic thoughts breed and fester, polluting the rivers and tributaries that fill our already staggering sea of comprehension.
WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW
My housemates and I had a rare dinner together. We lived in Russian Hill in San Francisco. We each paid $1330 a month for a room in a three bedroom flat on the upper floor of a townhouse. The neighborhood might as well have been the setting for a rom-com. One housemate was a 30-year-old working as a sales manager for some SaaS-product startup. It’s his final night before moving out to live with his nursing friends in Lower Haight. The other housemate was a 25-year-old office admin at a biotech company. They decided on taco night. To my chagrin, I drove home to find packets of Trader Joe’s taco flavoring. Immediately, I corrected these violations.
As we prepared to eat, they were particularly inebriated. They had moved on to the red wine and at some point started snorting lines of cocaine. It was a Tuesday night. I was working early the next day with a meeting early in the morning, so my level of participation in the festivities was reduced to two pilsners. In full disclosure it had been years since I partook in a substance of that potency. I disinclined on multiple accounts.
It didn’t take long until conspiracy theories became the main forum. Being that it was the sales-bro’s favorite subject, it was only a matter of time. From vaccination to the Clinton’s to the illuminati and to the spread of AIDs, one conspiracy segwayed into the next. In the early stages of this discourse, my two housemates were surprised, then congratulated each other for their shared belief in conspiracy theories. Though neither of them really embraced the same theories, they nonetheless behaved as if they were privy to some secret knowledge. I’ve seen this reaction a lot: it appears a lot of people have this exclusive information.
Then, as I began to pry further into these beliefs, I switched from what they were saying to how they were saying it. I listened as if I couldn’t comprehend their language. There was a dynamism in that set of emotions. When they regaled their conspiracy theories they offered both something expected and confounding. What I expected to see was there: conviction, obstinacy, alacrity, and slight aggression. What I wasn’t expecting was pleasure, anxiety, and pity in their expression. Pity and pleasure combined are effusions of self-empowerment through domination. But, anxiety confounded me.
As they continue they intermittently apologize for having said, “unpopular beliefs”. I recalled my 24-year-old self at a dinner with my mother and sister. They were talking about Russia’s involvement in Ukraine. As I interrupted their perfectly healthy conversation, I remembered going on and on about color revolutions being red herrings and the fraudulence of the protests in Donetsk. While I performed the scholar on the topic publicly, I hid the real truth: All my vaguely particular information was fed from Webster Tarpley and no one else. But, I even question my intentions too. Was I really hiding this fact? Did it even occur to me that I was a mere parrot? No, what I remembered most was the warmth of it. I remembered the sense of power and the disconcerted looks on my family’s faces. But, what I mostly remembered was the anxiety: the sweat, racing heart, and scanning eyes.
Tuning back in with my housemates, the discussion about conspiracies persisted. The defense submitted was that they’ve done the research to validate their claims. I trust that they did and I also think that I’d trust someone who’s done the extensive research more than someone who hasn’t–kind of goes without saying. What I wanted to know was how they went about their research, who, and why did they choose these sources. It is a futile task, even outside their state of inebriation. But, these are productive young adults thriving in an extremely competitive city. They clearly have guile and an education. But, what remained perplexing was the devotion to the theories, especially since believing in conspiracies would make them skeptics.
It made me think: When I first really immersed myself in Tarpley, I was a boot salesman at Red Wings boots in Santa Cruz, CA. It was 2014 and I had graduated two years before from UC Santa Cruz. Full of youthful vim and verve, I was eager to contribute to the working world. But, the reality was much different than I expected. After applying to numerous jobs, within a year I was bouncing from house to house, unable to afford rent, and working 12 hours a week at an independent movie theater at $7.50 an hour. After living in a renovated shed and having to moonlight at Macy’s holiday season position, my mom pleaded with me to move back home to Folsom, CA. Away from all my friends and independence I lived with my mother, building beehives in a barn for an apiarist during the day and hosting at Olive Garden in the evening. In Olive Garden I was made an example of why college was a worthless pursuit. A 16-year-old son of my old piano teacher earned an assistant manager position over me. Eventually, I moved without quitting Olive Garden and found a job ad for Red Wings where my friend was the manager. I got the job and worked there for two years, living with $12 an hr for twenty hours a week. I was ritually belittled. I was ritually told to change my clothes, shave my face, buy deodorant, cut my hair, and take more showers. After two years, I felt small, useless, and ashamed. I was nervous about the future. I was anxious. While sitting in the long empty hours within the boot store, drinking in the backroom and eating burritos I somehow found Tarpley.
Tarpley soothed everything. He put a face to the blame. Even if no one believed me, I knew who was responsible for my irrelevance. He was a Fulbright scholar and activist in the 70s and 80s. He was a polyglot and archive of literary references. Everything he said, I soon believed. Every day I’d tune in or listen to his old podcasts. NAFTA, Glass Steagall, fascism, it all made sense. As the months passed, I really felt I was drinking from a fountain of information in a secret garden. Nothing else would do. I felt I was privileged for this knowledge. But maybe I was too in the know. Maybe I was learning things that they didn’t want me to know. That’s when I started thinking that perhaps the authorities were tracking me. On my phone I listened for anomalies. I’d stop everything to watch an airplane flying across the sky. I suspected cops were tailing me.
Now I see it for what it was: ego. It was my ego believing I was something more important than I was. I couldn’t accept insignificance and what that might actually mean. I lived in perpetual anxiety, and in truth this knowledge never satisfied my real pain. It only fed on it. Like a virus, it leached on my anxiety and created a reliance on my ego.
In the living room, as they sniffed another line of cocaine, I asked, “Since your skepticism of everything you hear and see by the government, schools, media, etc. led you to trust conspiracy theories, why don’t you share your skepticism toward conspiracists too?”
I don’t remember their answer, because I don’t think my past conspiracy beliefs would’ve had one at that time either. Conspiracy was embedded in my way of thinking. But, over time it was rehabilitated.
WE’RE NOT ALONE
Trending means data. Thus, studies on conspiracists suggest three categorical motives: “Epistemic (e.g., the desire for understanding, accuracy, and subjective certainty), existential (e.g., the desire for control and security), and social (e.g., the desire to maintain a positive image of the self or group)” (Douglas, 2017). Between these three motives and additional psychological characteristics, there appears to be a certain socioeconomic lean to all this noise.
First, I’m putting these motives for conspiracists in reducible terms: confusion, fear, and shame. Perhaps more importantly, let’s contextualize them. These motives all point to a pervading sense of marginalization. But, instead of addressing economic anxiety, one man channeled this anxiety, antagonized it, and put a face to it: Trump. The face: Latino immigrants and minorities.
I believe these motives and the general anxiety of the American public in the last election are the context of our pervading anomie, socioeconomic strife, and conspiracy lust. And these characteristics are what egomaniacs, authoritarians thrive off of–they become the master. Or as David Graeber puts it when discussing, counterpower: “In egalitarian societies, counterpower might be said to be the predominant form of social power. It stands guard over what are seen as certain frightening possibilities within the society itself: notably against the emergence of systematic forms of political or economic dominance” (Graeber, 2017). I think of Angel’s supplications and misery at the beginning of his work:
I can’t keep working this job I’m working, it’s eating my language;
it’s killing my soul. It’s hard to know what exactly I’m trying to say,
or why I’m telling you. I think I’m asking you for help. How do I do it?
Just think of all the conspiracies that have now become a part of our political discourse. Reflect on conspiracist explanations propagated by Trump in his campaign for and during his presidency. To list them all:
- Barack Obama citizenship conspiracy theories
- Britain First
- Clinton Body Count
- Conspiracy theories related to the Trump–Ukraine scandal
- Deep state in the United States
- Death of Jeffrey Epstein
- FEMA camps conspiracy theory
- Suicide of Vince Foster
- Global warming conspiracy theory
- Great Replacement
- Hurricane Maria death toll controversy
- Murder of Seth Rich
- Russia investigation origins counter-narrative
- Trump Tower wiretapping allegations
- Uranium One controversy
- Voter impersonation
- White genocide conspiracy theory
The conspiracies for right-wing authoritarianism are profuse. Imhoff and Bruder, in Speaking (Un-)truth to power: conspiracy mentality as a generalised political attitude, explain that individuals with high amounts of right-wing authoritarianism endorse conspiracies which involve deviant (anomie), high-power groups, who threaten the status quo. They also argue that right-wing authoritarianism’s bedmate, social dominance-orientation, leads to an endorsement of theories involving the deviance of low-status groups (e.g., LGBTQ+, ethnic minorities), as they are perceived to threaten the status quo, as well.
I will reiterate: conspiracies were weaponized in Trump’s bid for presidency. Many are used to weaponize his policies in office. Violence perpetrated by white supremicists have been ignored by our president while immigrant families–from nations that we are responsible for devastating–are maligned as rapists and criminals. Conspiracies are now at the fore of our daily lives.
It may be helpful to reframe this so the fatalist in me doesn’t crawl in bed. Let’s shift the narrative on conspiracies: they are a symptom. And, the symptom is progressing, perhaps chronic. (I know it doesn’t sound better, but at least it’s actionable.) There is perhaps an alternative to the concerning trend of conspiracy normalization. As an identifiable, societal malady, there are preventative and rehabilitative measures we can take to correct the suppurated condition of our nation. “If the tendency to pathologize individuals with conspiracy beliefs is put aside (yet not disputed), it may be viewed as a tool for people to challenge social hierarchies and encourage government transparency, creating a more balanced and nuanced conceptualization” (Goreis, 2019). The conspiracies are vast and diverse, but all root in the same pot: socioeconomic unrest. And, unrest has been weaponized against race.
Thus, Angel’s ire toward conspiracies that espouse extraterrestrial influence of Mayan civilization contains profound insight into our culture. Something as ludicrous and seemingly innocuous as aliens actually perpetuates alienation. These theories inculcate a way of thinking, perceiving, and rationalizing our world. They’ve been weaponized.
HOW WILL WE COMMUNICATE WITH THEM?
After Angel’s reading, a few of us associated with Angel and the Latinx writers group went to a Mexican restaurant next door. After our food arrived and Pacifico’s were drunk, three of them were sharing stories about weddings and funerals with their families in LA. In these were rich, vivacious tales of dishonor, comedic accidents, chaos, intoxication, betrayal, tenderness, love, and revelation.
I felt anxious. I was out of place. This was a community of writers who knew each other well. They shared readings, jobs, and weekends together. Angel vouched briefly my credentials as a writer, but, that was superficially noted and left at that. Nervously I sat wanting to prove my value, to prove my belonging. So, I contributed a memory of my aunt and uncle’s retaking of vows in Turlock and the afterparty that culminated with my 14-year-old cousin abruptly parking a massive Ram pick-up truck on Highway 99 as my grandma rolled out into the muddy shoulder bemoaning, “I puked on my grandson!” But, halfway through the story one of the writers interrupted me saying, “Sounds like white people problems.”
There’s a pregnant pause. What was jovial, congenial had now become tense and divisive. In ways, his statement, though unnecessary, was excusable. I’m passable white, no doubt. My mom’s side is of Irish descendancy. My dad’s side is of Portuguese, Spanish, and Mexican descent. My dad grew up in an impoverished agricultural community in Turlock, CA. His family and friends worked dairies, ag fields, and canneries. I understand the reaction. I understand the pride. Agency is vital in belonging. It maybe wasn’t my place to contribute as such. I can have my own struggles, my own agency. But, by conflating my struggles with the immediately relevant discourse can diminish and detract from the importance of giving credence to that narrative. There’s an important lesson: the balance of knowing.
And there’s great work being done to help. To correct the years of white male dominance within the writing industry, there’ve been great improvements in representation and a proliferation of publications that address disparity. Peers like Angel have thrived in finally being allowed to share their experience, give voice to their narrative, to unsilence their culture, to give them back their history, agency, and identity on a global stage.
Being passable white without having an overtly Latinx upbringing has always been a compulsive source of frustration for me as a writer. As the continual rain of rejections pour into my inbox every week, the feeling of uselessness, humiliation, and insignificance can manifest rather quickly some days. Sometimes I catch myself trying to blame certain people or bodies of representation for my distress. I get more anxious when writing. I submit work with an eagerness derived more from a need for validation than a feeling it’s complete or ready to be shared. Some days I can find myself humoring the idea that this is a gameshow and the failures are only for the viewers’ amusement. Before I know it, I’m far from the reality. I’m far from realizing what might be the problem and what could be solved.
Perhaps, I should have qualified my story differently. Maybe, I should’ve specified class. There are ways to bond, to fuse the narrative of the disenfranchised. I sometimes forget that it requires listening and receptivity to violations. It requires sensitivity. But, disempowerment is pervasive. The gradual erosion of belonging and purpose by the bolstering of competition and exclusionary consumerist trends have divided us, weakening our motivation to unionize and mobilize. There’s a ubiquity of anxiety to survive.
Yet, my immediate mobilization effort was decided with the bill. As I placed the tip down, Angel’s word rang through my head:
I maintain the white institution; I uphold the architecture of the oppressor so that I can pay rent.
I said my goodbyes to Angel and entered the car just before the rain poured the heaviest yet that day.
Trying to wait it out, I streamed a video from the History Channel, Ancient Aliens series on Mayan conspiracies. I was hardly registering the absurd dramatizations of this invasion, when one, Linda Moulton Howe, an “investigative journalist” of EARTHFILES, offered her two-cents: “Those Mayans didn’t leave because of drought. They left because it was some kind of harvest. It was an experiment. The Mayans reached some place, and somebody took them from here. It was the end of a calendar cycle and the beginning of another calendar cycle. It means a lot to some intelligence out there.” The frankness of which she spoke. Her timbre, it was almost tender. I felt nauseous. It’s the worst-case scenario: this is something she truly believes. She emotes when discussing it. I had a second realization: what if there’s no speaking to them?
As the rain wouldn’t ease, I had to proceed in the severest storm I’ve ever had to drive. It was nearing midnight and my windshield wipers hardly contributed anything to help with the visibility. On the Bay Bridge, the rain was purling, pirouetting, and billowing from the surface. I was transported to my early twenties, studying every military jet that screamed past my window, watching the 1955 Dummy Test nuclear bomb tests, and reading into Kissinger’s false flag operations in Cambodia. As the rooftops vaporized, I felt so insignificant, so afraid. Purposeless, unbelonging, anxious, with a keen sense of dread, I watched in awe the transcendental beauty of that mushroom cloud blooming, like a lung breathing in.
I drive into the heart of the Finance District. The streets are empty except a few homeless seeking shelter under awnings. I think of Angel’s poem:
But who cares. This pile of letters. This alien heart. This figure, this fugue, this dancing.
- Douglas,Karen M., et al. “The Psychology of Conspiracy Theories.” Current Directions in Psychological Science, vol. 26, no. 6, Dec. 2017, p.p. 538-542, 10.1177/096372147718261.
- Goreis, Andreas, and Martin Voracek. “A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Psychological Research on Conspiracy Beliefs: Field Characteristics, Measurement Instruments, and Associations With Personality Traits.” Frontiers in Psychology, vol. 10, 11 Feb. 2019, 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00205.
- Graeber, David. Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology. S.L., The University of Chicago Press, 2004
- Nelson, Maggie. The Art of Cruelty: A Reckoning. New York, W.W. Norton, 2012.