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Nowtopia vs. Despair in Seattle

I had a great visit to Seattle for lots of reasons, but bicycling wasn’t really one of them. I cycled around quite a bit, but it’s an unfriendly place for cycling, even though I did see a fair number of folks bicycling. The hills and wide streets full of cars with no shoulder were pretty daunting.

I was luckily invited to appear on Mind Over Matters on KEXP-FM at 7:30 on Sunday June 22, and thanks to that, my readings at Elliott Bay Books that afternoon at 2 and the next evening at Left Bank Books were both well attended, at least a half dozen at each having heard me on the radio. So thanks to Mike McCormick for inviting me, and hopefully I’ll soon have a place to link to for the podcast. Elliott Bay Books has an amazing big room adjacent to their cafe in the basement, dedicated to author readings. Here I am signing books at the end of the Talk! Can’t say I’ve too many experiences like this on the tour, sitting down at a table at the end and signing books for over a dozen buyers! so THAT’s how it’s supposed to work!

It was a good feeling to arrive and see Nowtopia prominently featured in their main window too:

The next night I went to Left Bank Books, who had been very apologetic ahead of time about how small their space is in Pike Market, and how unusual it is for them to even host events in the store. In fact, it was an odd layout, but about 15 folks crammed in and were very enthusiastic and attentive. Here’s the store from the outside:

Keeping independent bookstores alive is increasingly a Nowtopian endeavor all by itself! So many of the outposts of free information and culture that I’ve visited on this tour are maintained by volunteers, or lowly-paid, dedicated book-and-idea lovers. A hearty thanks to all of them. Kristi and the others at Left Bank were very generous and gave me a super warm welcome. As they’re having their 35th birthday and are grandfathered into their space in the heart of the tourist zone of Seattle, they deserve all the support we can send them…

One of the fellows who heard me on the radio and approached me at Elliott Bay handed me a Farmers Market Guide to the state of Washington. Another Nowtopian initiative, the state is full of fresh, local produce at Farmers Markets. I asked about what was happening in Seattle, and some folks piped up to talk about the P-patch community garden initiative, and sure enough, I’d noticed one on my way cycling in from Beacon Hill.

I loved cycling on the ridge top of Beacon Hill: far to the west the snow-capped Olympic mountains on the other side of Puget Sound; to the east the snow-capped mountains of the Cascades. To the south, Mt. Rainier, another massive and impressive mountain. Here’s a shot of it as we drove away across the floating bridge of I-90 in Lake Washington:

Our gracious host Ruth and her charming 6-year-old Grace, took us on a couple of car tours of the city. We went to the U-dub area, named after the Univ. of Washington campus that is its center, and found a long wall that had been the center of street artists’ efforts a year earlier. I liked this panel the best, though there were a couple of interesting ones:

During that stenciling party I blogged in the previous entry, Ruth made a stencil saying “Total Destruction–Only Solution?” and it reminded me again of how peculiarly apocalyptic the spirit is here in the Northwest. Or maybe it’s not so peculiar, but does seem to have some kind of hold on a lot of people we’ve met, some combination of despair, depression, and resignation, undergirded by a misanthropic instinct regarding “everyone else”. (A funny aside is that the fellow who first coined the Total Destruction, Only Solution tag, followed it elsewhere with a second installment: “Total Construction? Only Pollution”).

There is a deep alienation at the root of this despair, and it’s really the basic alienation imposed by commodity fetishism, in which we human subjects are reduced to objects, while the world around us is given power and animation and subjectivity. So humans are just stupid, or lumps, or bamboozled, but in any case, incapable of reinventing the world (the world we already made into this mess), since the Machine, or Civilization, or the Spectacle, is the agent of history and we humans are spectators, or victims, or hapless enthusiasts of our own alienation. No wonder so many people get depressed up here with that as an underlying frame of reference! And there is also the basic mystery of life’s meaning, an existential dilemma that is difficult to answer if giving meaning to life and our activities in the world is precluded by a philosophical predisposition to mistrust human action and human desire as flawed, duped, cancerous, and even the point of origin for our collective unhappiness. To paraphrase a copy of Green Anarchy (“an anti-civilization journal of theory and action”) I browsed yesterday, we have to eliminate language and time to be able to experience a true life… sheesh! It’s pretty amazing that John Zerzan and his friends can keep their energies up to fling us into the same philosophical cul-de-sac over and over, issue after issue, year after year. The sad part is how many people unconsciously adopt the meme they’ve been selling all this time, that the only solution is total destruction. The quickest path to this bleak vision is still, after a half century, dropping the Big One.

On a happier note, and not a pollyanna-ish happiness either, I find that my Nowtopia Talks are regularly leaving inspiration and enthusiasm in their wake. Even though I offer a total critique of my own, it doesn’t leave people numb and depressed, feeling that there’s nothing they can do. On the contrary, it is precisely constructed to activate our subjectivities, to reconnect us to the basic power of life and love and creativity that we all have. If we can find a political voice, and continue to expand our social networks on the basis of this revivified subjectivity and passion (and practical, useful work), I’m quite sure we can seriously challenge the direction of the larger society from below…

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One Response to “Nowtopia vs. Despair in Seattle”

  1. 1
    DeAnna Tibbs:

    That is cool that you spoke at Left Bank. I love that place and I love the fact that they are in the middle of such a touristy area.

    That is interesting that you noticed the apocolyptic spirit up there; I never really noticed that it seemed greater than here. It’s my understanding that the northwest radical scene has a much harder time with police and FBI than us bay-areans have historically, I can see how those kinds of tensions would cultivate those attitudes. Maybe it is a chicken and egg game, though to figure out what has cultivated what.

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