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Hakim Bey, Pederasty, and the difference between the Work and the Author.

 
  

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Jared Louderback
09:59 / 30.11.06
I apologize if I am putting this in the wrong thread, but I think it has some philosphical ramifications. And I'm REALLY sorry if something about this is already around somewhere. I did use my search function though.

I liked Hakim Bay. I've read TAZ on the internet a couple of times, and his stuff in the Book of Lies is awsome. So, as I sometimes do, I looked him up on wikipedia, and what do I find?

It turns out that as well as being a sorcerer and a sufi-trained mystic, he is also... well, sort of a pedarast.

Apperently he has written articles for nambla for many years. If this was public knowledge beforehand, wow, jeeze, am I out of the loop. I find it really weird that someone of such high profile (in certain circles anyway) could have such a... disgusting vice or at least defend something terrible, and he is not a complete pariah.

But on top of that it got me to thinking about something else: how much do we have to seperate the authors work for the author? Viewing Peter Wilson's writing through this lens makes me look at his ideas in a new and disturbing way. Although I have no direct evidence (I don't have issues of the nambla newsletter lying around the house) he evidently uses his idividual anarchist ideals to support and defend pedarasty. Many ideas of his I agree with, but how much can one agree with a pedarast. At the same time, I agree with some of the things Ayn Rand wrote, but I think she is a fucking loon half the time.

so, basically, how is it that no one talks about Bey's ugly sexuality, and how he is not regarded as a pariah? Is there some big part of the story I am missing?

And how much do you have to seperate the author from the work, espcially someone like Peter Lambert? Is it even possible?
 
 
stabbystabby
11:43 / 30.11.06
weeeeeelll..... to be fair, there have always been anarchist writers who have questioned the notion of a legal age of consent. it's a difficult area, and the arguments on both sides are interesting - it's just that the debates usually take place on a more theoretical level. writing for Nambla just seems.... gross.
 
 
Disco is My Class War
12:26 / 30.11.06
At the same time, I agree with some of the things Ayn Rand wrote

Perhaps you should be questioning your own values. In the meantime, find a better hero than Hakim Bey.
 
 
Disco is My Class War
12:34 / 30.11.06
On second thoughts, let me explain. You could make a fairly coherent argument that NAMBLA is not a 'pedophile association', but an organisation that in the 70's and 80s was engaged in trying to think imaginatively about age of consent laws. It's oversimplifyng in the extreme to argue that NAMBLA, by definition, is simply disgusting because it supports intergenerational sex/love. As far as my knowledge of NAMBLA goes, and it's quite limited, the NAMBLA folks are mostly engaged in making intellectual arguments that young people should be able to sleep wih older people legally. That's not exactly running a pedophile ring for cash, raping children, or whatever. (Although it's entirely possible that some people involved with NAMBLA were doing precisely that.)

People like Gayle Rubin and Patrick Califia were supportive of NAMBLA in the 1980's, during the sex wars, and I guess that although I wasn't around then, I have enough respect for those sexual 'outlaws' not to immediately jump to the conclusion of NAMBLA = disgusting pedophiles. However, this has been discussed many times on Barbelith. Jared, you might want to do a search of the archives and find past relevant threads.
 
 
Jack Fear
13:08 / 30.11.06
Previous thread on Hakim Bey.

Another, perhaps tangentially related—Bey's idea that all true pleasures must perforce be illegal.

The intellectual history of NAMBLA, in my inexpert and incomplete understanding, is the story of how a siomple idea goes off the rails pretty quickly. Starting with the simple idea that maybe blanket age-of-consent laws were not a one-size-fits-all solution, that different people were ready for sex at different ages—an essentially libertarian idea to which many people (such as myself) could be broadly sympathetic—NAMBLA quickly marginalized itself by refusing to adopt standards stigmatizing behavior that quote-unquote "most reasonable people" would find abusive.

So while NAMBLA does not necessarily advocate the sexual exploitation of minors too young to offer meaningful consent, but neither does the organization feel it can condemn such behavior. As often happens, the "no purge" policy left the public to form its opinion of NAMBLA based on the lowest common denominator.

It's a fascinating case study of how movements shoot themselves in the foot.
 
 
Jack Fear
13:13 / 30.11.06
More threads:

One on NAMBLA.

Is pedophilia bad?

Preteens and the sexualization of children.

The pedophile debate.
 
 
nighthawk
13:20 / 30.11.06
But on top of that it got me to thinking about something else: how much do we have to seperate the authors work for the author?

I'm generally quite dismissive of these concerns when it comes to art and literature, but things do get a bit more complicated with theory and analysis. For example, until recently I've generally avoided work by Althusser, purely because (as far as I can tell) his real-life politics were awful. On reflection, though, I don't think this necessarily undermines his work, which ought to be evaluated on its own terms. That said, it does make me wary.

Anyway, re: Hakim Bey, if your only problem with his politics is the fact that he wrote a few articles for NAMBLA, I suggest tracking them down and evaluating them on their content, rather than writing him off on the basis of NAMBLA's popular reputation.
 
 
Less searchable M0rd4nt
13:32 / 30.11.06
nighthawk, at least some of Hakim Bey's wrtitings for Nambla would appear to describe actual incidents of child abuse perpetrated by the author.

I really don't understand the idolization of this guy. To me, his writing--even without reference to his pederasty--is full of a pathological selfishness. I can't take him seriously. His whole anarchist vision and philosophy seems less about human freedom and more about the inalienable right of Hakim Bey to do whatever would make Hakim Bey happiest at this particular moment (including getting his rocks off with underaged kids).
 
 
nighthawk
13:49 / 30.11.06
Really? Are they online anywhere? Morbid interest more than anything else - I don't have much time for his politics, and he generally comes across as a bit of a tool in interviews I've read.
 
 
Quantum
14:04 / 30.11.06
Bey on porn has this nugget for example;

"imagine a script for a three-minute film set on a mythical isle of runaway children who inhabit ruins of old castles or build totem-huts & junk-assemblage nests...
...but weird & naked, feathers & bones, tents sewn with crystal, black dogs, pigeon-blood--flashes of amber limbs tangled in sheets--faces in starry masks kissing soft creases of skin--androgynous pirates, castaway faces of columbines sleeping on thigh-white flowers--nasty hilarious piss jokes, pet lizards lapping spilt milk--nude break- dancing--victorian bathtub with rubber ducks & pink boners-- Alice on ganja...
...who would see it? Not the kids it was meant to seduce.
...Leaflet a playground with inflammatory smutty feuilletons-- pornopropaganda, crackpot samizdat to unchain Desire from its bondage.
"
 
 
Jack Fear
14:33 / 30.11.06
See, that's the NAMBLA dilemma in a nutshell; for an organization predicated on the mutual benefits of sex between men and boys, there's always been a conspicuous lack of actual boys among the membership—making for a rather one-sided argument, which really hasn't helped their credibility...
 
 
Jared Louderback
21:06 / 30.11.06
"In the meantime, find a better hero than Hakim Bey."

I never said he was my hero. I have read a few of his works and they were interesting. I just thought it was really weird that he shows up a lot in various places, and it seems strange to me that he isn't some sort of pariah or blacklist or something. I understand open mindedness, espcially among the fringe cultures, but it seems like writing poetry for nambla about the beauty of ten year olds would be sort of like an automatic blacklisting action.

Admittedly though, I am nowhere near an expert on the guy (obviously) and some of the points made in the other threads seem to be solid ones.

Hah, and don't even get me started on Ayn Rand. Like I said, I'm pretty sure she is a loon.
 
 
Jared Louderback
21:10 / 30.11.06
http://libcom.org/library/leaving-out-ugly-part-hakim-bey

This is an article that sort of blasts Bey, and it also includes one of his poems from nambla.
 
 
redtara
22:06 / 30.11.06
Eeeeww. I always thought he was fun and that his references to childrens sexuality in TAZ were trying to unpick the victorian denial that my society extends to such matters.

I shall go get my self another hero.

What a sap!
 
 
illmatic
22:34 / 30.11.06
Quants, that piece of writing is hardly damning evidence is it? It reads like a imaginative fantasy to me, albeit being one with "unacceptable" desires masked under some florid imagery. (Though Mordant, if you could scare up some links to what you've mentioned I'd like to see them.)

I still really like Bey's stuff still, irrespective of his sexuality. I think he's a great theorist who's written some really profound stuff that hasn't been articulated elsewhere. Read the linked thread above to see some of his ideas discussed. To me, he's an endlessly interesting writer.

I've no idea how he's struggled with, or acted upon his desires, and I do find it hard to believe that he hasn't thought profoundly about the issues that this involves - though perhaps I'm too quick to give free pass 'cos I like his stuff.

Cat Chant makes some good points here discussing these issues.

Key to me is "does his attraction to young boys invalidate his thinking on all subjects"? Personally, for me it doesn't, but YMMV.

Another case in point might be William Burroughs - the passage quoted above seems to me inspired by his Wild Boys. Does Burroughs desire for adolescent boys - an obsession which permates his work, and one which he clearly acted upon - invalidate his status or abilities as a writer?
 
 
illmatic
22:45 / 30.11.06
I understand open mindedness, espcially among the fringe cultures, but it seems like writing poetry for nambla about the beauty of ten year olds would be sort of like an automatic blacklisting action.

I mentioned this in the other thread, but I may as well restate it here. I first encountered Bey's work about 16 years ago. At the time - or maybe a shade later - I was reading a lot of Anarchist stuff. One of the magazines I used to read was "Anarchy: A journal of desire armed" and it's letters pages at the time were FULL of discussions/angry debates about padeophilla/"inter-generational sex". It was a much debated topic at the time and I suppose NAMBLA existed in that context. They in turn were an echo of other debates from the 70s - see PIE/Tom Carroll, who basically tried to legitimise padeophila in the wake of earlier sexual liberation battles.

Times change, and with it our attitudes and the content of our discussions.
 
 
Jared Louderback
23:06 / 30.11.06
Yeah, I suppose all the ideas I have about nambla have been fed to me, and I really have no clear idea of what the orgainization truly stands for beyond what the news and various tv shows have said about them.

That being said, it still makes me sorta... ooogy? No matter how you phrase their mission statment, being the "North American Man Boy Love association" means that you are likely to believe in something that the general population think is sick and wrong.
 
 
illmatic
23:09 / 30.11.06
... and maybe it is sick and wrong? I certainly believe PIE and Tom Carroll were pretty fucked up, from what I've read of them. It's just to me the involvement with NAMBLA doesn't - to me - rule out all or invalidate all of Bey's ideas.
 
 
Jared Louderback
23:12 / 30.11.06
Oh, yeah, I completely agree there.
 
 
nighthawk
23:27 / 30.11.06

I still really like Bey's stuff still, irrespective of his sexuality. I think he's a great theorist who's written some really profound stuff that hasn't been articulated elsewhere.


What is it you find profound or original about his writings, Eggs? I find it hard to see what people get from Bey, beyond purple prose and a vague sense that life can be creative and fun. It strikes me that one can find both in other writers, without Bey's hopeless political analysis and general lifestylist politics. But then I haven't read him exstensively - am I missing something, or being unfair?
 
 
Olulabelle
23:38 / 30.11.06
I think that sometimes, if someone holds ideas that are so profoundly different to ones own it's hard to get past that. Logically it's easy to say it shouldn't matter, but when it's a thing like finding children sexually attractive, well that sort of defines a person doesn't it? And it has to be a fundamental part of them, part of their basic make-up. It's a bit like being anti-feminist and yet trying to follow Germaine Greer's ideas about things other than feminism. The being a feminist bit of her is so strong it's intrinsic to what she thinks about everything, it kind of filters down.
 
 
Jared Louderback
23:54 / 30.11.06
Yeah, High Priestess, that is what I was getting at. When your dealing with someone whose personal beliefs are an intrinsic part of their writings (well, I guess a person's beliefs will always be an important part, but it's much more visible and out front with someone like Bey, or philosphers in general), when you find out they believe in something so out of left feild it seems like you really have to reevaluate what those writings mean. Using Individualist Anarachy as a defense of pedarasty is much different that being a believer in Individualist Anarachy for... some other reason (wow, my brain totally stopped working). On the one hand, if you agree with something someone else has said, it should be for your own personal reasons. At the same time, you really have to view all those works through a new lens when you find out something like this about the author.
 
 
Phex: Dorset Doom
00:14 / 01.12.06
This isn't the first time a writer has had oogy beliefs- Allen Ginsberg (a far bigger writer than Bey by several orders of magnitude) gave money to NAMbLA*. Martin Heidegger, Paul De Man, and half the big names in Modernism were fascists or Nazis to a greater or lesser extent (okay, big over-simplification there) and while they haven't exactly been left off the hook, you're unlikely to find a University philosophy department that doesn't teach Heidegger or an English department that doesn't teach Ezra Pound.

*Their logo has a capital M for MAN and a small b for boy.
 
 
illmatic
09:44 / 01.12.06
What is it you find profound or original about his writings, Eggs?

I really like his work on immediatism. I like the connection he makes between art, "resistance", mediation and everyday life. I also think the analysis he gives of capital in Millenium is pretty spot on. I also like the wide range of his interests - he's wrote on sufism, piracy, the search for Irish soma, and has a new book out which features a lot of material on Charles Fourierto name just a couple of subjects, he always seems to be throwing open new tangents. I've just read a 1994 essay of his (Ploughing the CLouds, not be confused with the book of the same name) in Dreamflesh, and it's a phenomal piece of writing. Meditations on actively using theory and research into pre-history in a creative and inspiring way, followed by some thinking on "primitivism" and the neolithic.

When I first read his stuff, no one else seemed to be saying the things he was saying, such as a defence of the body and critquing the fetishisation of people like Manson in alternative circles. I like the connection between theory, spirituality, anarchist polemic and situationst inspired "politcs of everyday life" that one gets in his work. Possibly I wouldn't feel the same if I encountered him for the first time, now I don't know.

I think there's doubtless a connection between his sexuality and his politics. The desire to live in a different world where he doesn't have such constrants on himself? Maybe so.
 
 
Crux Is This City's Protector.
13:34 / 01.12.06
My understanding is that the dude doesn't really feel that many constraints. Reports have him breezing through town with a coterie of sparkling young lads, et cetera. The one time I saw him he was sitting behind me at a performance/QnA by Terry Riley; he was, then, lad-free. But one doesn't get the impression, which I've seen a couple times, that he is a man who has these deep unsociable desires, which he is trying to sublimate, or legitimize, or whatever. Rather, one gets the impression that he's a guy who hangs out with boys as much as he can.
 
 
unheimlich manoeuvre
16:19 / 01.12.06
Eggs, Hakim Bey wasn't doing anything original though. Or perhaps I haven't read enough of his work. He was obviously heavily influenced by anthropology, especially Levi Strauss, from which he got his ideas about pre-history. He also borrowed Georges Bataille's ideas of lost intimacy, transgression and excess. Immediatism is a term taken from the movements to end slavery and the idea in itself is nothing new.
Add to that Hakim Bey's supposed stance on anti-copyright and his threats to sue Luther Blissett over his fake book, as I said in one of the other threads.
I don't understand the interest in his work.
 
 
illmatic
17:53 / 01.12.06
A lot of the anthropology comes from Pierre Clastres, who was a theorist I'd not encountered outside of Bey's work.

I'm quite happy with the fact that his ideas may not orignate with him. I like the fact that he wears his inspiration on his sleeve, really. I was going to add to the above entry something like "if I was better versed in theory, perhaps these ideas wouldn't be new or appealing to me". I feel the same about the immediatist stuff - it was new to me, and articulated differently than anything I'd heard before with a lot of different concerns woven in. If it seems hackneyed to you, fair enough (I would be interested to here where you'd encountered similar concepts though). I don't especially want to defend his writing as stunningly original, I'm just giving my own reaction to it.
 
 
Alex's Grandma
18:20 / 01.12.06
Does Burroughs desire for adolescent boys - an obsession which permates his work, and one which he clearly acted upon - invalidate his status or abilities as a writer?

This seems like an instructive example. In many ways Burroughs' life could be described a series of events so catastrophic as to appear to be an exercise in studied amorality. The list of charges would go something like; that he shot his wife in a drunken haze, and took advantage of his status as quasi-Deep South aristocracy to skip the country and evade the jail time; that his relationship with William Burroughs Jr was so dysfunctional as to, arguably anyway, have been directly responsible for his (always adoring) son's early drug and alcohol-related death; that he was a heroin addict for decades, on and off, with all that implies as to his relationship with criminality in general (rolling drunks on the subway and so on); that he frequently availed himself of the services of adolescent rent boys in developing countries, and was unapologetic about this to the point of actively defending the practice in his last diary (I don't have a copy to hand, but if memory serves, the argument goes roughly; if there's going to be a crackdown on Western tourists in the developing world with a certain agenda, how are these boys going to earn a living?)

In other words, there isn't much positive you can say about the life. And even the work's fairly controversial - there are any number of commentators who, while they're happy enough with the idea of 'Naked Lunch' 'Junkie' and 'Queer' as works of genius, haven't got much time for a lot of the rest.

And yet, he's still considered (and rightly I think) a major 20th century literary figure. Who seems to get a free pass, somehow, in terms of what he actually got up to.

I'm guessing then, that it's possible to have a prose style that's so fluent as to almost morally anaesthetise the reader (the Joe Orton Diaries are another example - there are any number of incidents involving fairly reprehensible behaviour in Tangiers in the Sixties, and yet it's possible to finish the book really quite liking the author.) If the writing's good enough then, (and it's interesting that Bey, whose work, aside from the odd link on Barbelith, I've never read, seems to be coming in for criticism here as much for his books as his lifestyle,) it seems as if ethical concerns almost remove themselves from the equation. At least for enough readers that the reputation stays largely intact.

I hesitate to bring up Gary Glitter and Jonathan King here, especially seeing as in the latter case there seems to have been an element of coercion involved, but on the other hand, if Gary Glitter had written 'The White Album' would he be having quite such a hard time these days?

Or is pederasty simply a hot button issue now in a way that it wasn't for most of the Twentieth century?

(With apologies if I've veered off the topic - I should probably stress that aside from being a Burroughs fan, I've got no personal stake in any of this.)
 
 
nighthawk
19:49 / 01.12.06
I really like his work on immediatism. I like the connection he makes between art, "resistance", mediation and everyday life.

You'll have to point me towards some good stuff - his analysis has always seemed shallow and reactionary to me.

For example, in the text you linked to in the other thread, he begins with:


i.

All experience is mediated--by the mechanisms of sense perception, mentation, language, etc.--& certainly all art consists of some further mediation of experience.


As far as I can see, that's tantamount to an admission that the idea of an 'unmediated' experience is basically nonesense, completely meaningless, which I think is true.

He then goes on to say:



ii.

However, mediation takes place by degrees. Some experiences (smell, taste, sexual pleasure, etc.) are less mediated than others (reading a book, looking through a telescope, listening to a record). Some media, especially ``live'' arts such as dance, theater, musical or bardic performance, are less mediated than others such as TV, CDs, Virtual Reality. Even among the media usually called ``media,'' some are more & others are less mediated, according to the intensity of imaginative participation they demand. Print & radio demand more of the imagination, film less, TV even less, VR the least of all--so far.

iii.

For art, the intervention of Capital always signals a further degree of mediation. To say that art is commodified is to say that a mediation, or standing-in-between, has occurred, & that this betweenness amounts to a split, & that this split amounts to ``alienation.'' Improv music played by friends at home is less ``alienated'' than music played ``live'' at the Met, or music played through media (whether PBS or MTV or Walkman). In fact, an argument could be made that music distributed fr ee or at cost on cassette via mail is LESS alienated than live music played at some huge We Are The World spectacle or Las Vegas niteclub, even though the latter is live music played to a live audience (or at least so it appears), while the former is recor ded music consumed by distant & even anonymous listeners.

iv.

The tendency of Hi Tech, & the tendency of Late Capitalism, both impel the arts farther & farther into extreme forms of mediation. Both widen the gulf between the production & consumption of art , with a corresponding increase in ``alienation.''


Even allowing for the idea of degrees of mediation (away from some non-existent unmediated experience), he doesn't bother to explain why 'mediation' is a bad thing. He just uses some cod marxist/hegelian vocab (alienation), makes a very vague reference to Capital with a capital C, and proclaims that music made in someone's front room is somehow superior to live concerts and cds. He shows no sensitivity to the fact that modern art-forms like the cinema and the recorded album are not really supposed to be equivalent to the 'unmediated' interactions he fetishizes - what would an unmediated cinema look like? - and completely passes over the fact that these art-forms bring a whole host of new imaginative possibilities with them. As I said, it just seems reactionary and shallow, and picks up on the romantic/primitivist theme running throughout his work - something that, in my experience, makes for incoherent politics.

Rereading that text, I can't find anything beyond the idea that an alienated state of mind is a bad thing (fairly tautologous), and that alienated people might find some solace in contemporary art and entertainment. There is no real substance to his analysis, no link between 'alienation' and contemporary art-forms or technology. It just seems that he's taking some genuine marxian insights, and distorting them to the point where they become little more than reactionary platitudes.
 
 
Jared Louderback
22:15 / 01.12.06
Eggs has a good point, that while Bey might not be the greatest writer, and apperently he has lifted many ideas from other people, he is a good starting point. You can read TAZ and if you haven't read anything else that is like that, it will be new to you.

I get the same thing when I've said I was into Robert Anton Wilson. A lot of people point out that he was basically mining a lot of his ideas from people like Leary, but he was pretty forthright about it, and most importantly it was new to me.

So, to the initiated it might seem like very ho-hum and cliched, but when you're an idiot teenager or you're really new to these ideas, and you find TAZ and it makes you think about things you hadn't thought about before, that's cool, that's a good thing, even if those ideas have been around for a long time.
 
 
illmatic
09:17 / 02.12.06
Nighthawk: I think I said on the other thread that I was uncomfortable with coming over as the one man Hakim Bey fan club, and that still holds, so I'm not going to attempt the most lengthy defence.

he doesn't bother to explain why 'mediation' is a bad thing

I see his thing here as very much being in line with situationist critques of the spectacle. Now, I think these ideas are a bit outdated, and posit an overly passive audience, but that's to me implicit in where he's coming from. The other part - well, it seems to me, there's something pretty powerful about the idea of presence, the importance of the body and face to face interaction, and any creativity which might emerge from this. That's worth valourising, surely? Now, I might be totally wrong here, but I don't recall encountering many other writers who talked about this in the same way.

So when you say [and that] completely passes over the fact that these art-forms bring a whole host of new imaginative possibilities with them well, fair point, but not really what he's talking about. The point seems to be to emphasise individual or small scale creativity as I said.
 
 
nighthawk
12:05 / 02.12.06
Nighthawk: I think I said on the other thread that I was uncomfortable with coming over as the one man Hakim Bey fan club, and that still holds, so I'm not going to attempt the most lengthy defence.

Yeah, fair enough, I don't really expect you to. I can see why Bey might seem exciting if you were new to some of the ideas he throws around - that sub-Situationist prose style is pretty cool the first time you come across it (for me, that was reading Monsieur Dupont), but by the time I read Bey it just came across as hackneyed. To be fair, I don't know much about the more spiritual and anthropological aspects of his writings (in the sense that I have no frame of reference within which to evaluate it), and I get the impression that you're interested in that stuff too?

The other part - well, it seems to me, there's something pretty powerful about the idea of presence, the importance of the body and face to face interaction, and any creativity which might emerge from this. That's worth valourising, surely? Now, I might be totally wrong here, but I don't recall encountering many other writers who talked about this in the same way.

I won't push the point, but I think he completely boulderizes the situationist ideas about the spectacle, etc. The idea about physical presence is fun, sure, but I don't like the way he situates it as a political or radical critique, rather than just presenting it as a nice idea. Someone like Artaud (who I love) can do the same sort of thing, but when I read something like Theatre and the Plague I feel like he's genuinely sensitive to the possibilities of the medium he's writing about; Bey just seems shallow in comparison. Still, when Artaud starts talking about 'revolution', I don't take him very seriously.
 
 
illmatic
13:48 / 02.12.06
I get the impression that you're interested in that stuff too?

Yeah, I've read several of his books on sufism, and I think they're pretty amazing. Though to be fair, I'm not familar with much other writing on the religion, so I'm not sure how accurate or inaccurate he is. The other essay I mentioned (can't find it online, sorry) draws on the work of Maija Gimbutas as well as Clastres. It leans a little towards neo-primitivism (which I really don't have a lot of time for) but is a lot more self-consciously playful with the ideas.

I won't push the point, but I think he completely boulderizes the situationist ideas about the spectacle, etc.

I would be interested to here more on that actually. I've only read Debord once, and I can't say I had a good grasp on what he was saying.

The idea about physical presence is fun, sure, but I don't like the way he situates it as a political or radical critique, rather than just presenting it as a nice idea.

Possibly this appeals more to me, because I can relate it a lot to my own meditaive practice(s)? I think there may be the germ of something radical there, maybe? I like the connections between our subjectivity and "radical critque"/resistance, though I'm happy to concede this may be hippy nonsense!
 
 
diz
09:54 / 04.12.06
On second thoughts, let me explain. You could make a fairly coherent argument that NAMBLA is not a 'pedophile association', but an organisation that in the 70's and 80s was engaged in trying to think imaginatively about age of consent laws. It's oversimplifyng in the extreme to argue that NAMBLA, by definition, is simply disgusting because it supports intergenerational sex/love. As far as my knowledge of NAMBLA goes, and it's quite limited, the NAMBLA folks are mostly engaged in making intellectual arguments that young people should be able to sleep wih older people legally.

From what I understand about their position and their supporters, it seemed that a lot of their support came from people who were in favor of legalizing pederasty (relationships between adults and post-pubescent adolescents) and not so much pedophilia (which involves pre-pubescent children). I had been under the impression that many NAMbLA supporters had something in mind like the ancient Greek tradition of the erastes-eromenos relationship. The Greeks saw such a relationship as a sort of sexual and moral apprenticeship, where the older man would guide an adolescent male into adulthood.

It can certainly be argued that the pederasts within NAMbLA did themselves a disservice strategically by associating their cause with that of the pedophiles, and you could certainly argue that pederasty is ultimately not acceptable either. However, I think the issue of whether or not adolescents and adults should be having sex is, I think, a much more complex issue than the issue of pedophilia. One is clearly universally damaging and exploitative, whereas I think one could make the argument that a relationship between adolescents and adults is not necessarily so in every case. As such, I don't think it's fair to condemn everyone associated with NAMbLA as a wild-eyed child molester, and I don't think it's reasonable to dismiss all their arguments as being beyond the pale of legitimate and serious discourse.

Whether or not Bey himself falls more on the pedophile or pederast end of things is another issue, and I think this goes back to the distinction between the author and his work that others have been arguing for. I think his work does deserve some degree of serious consideration.

What is it you find profound or original about his writings, Eggs? I find it hard to see what people get from Bey, beyond purple prose and a vague sense that life can be creative and fun. It strikes me that one can find both in other writers, without Bey's hopeless political analysis and general lifestylist politics.

I think a lot of my issues with Bey's critics is the way they use "lifestylist" as a pejorative. I think that, in general, a revolution in lifestyle and day-to-day activities and forms of life is almost always a significantly more effective strategy than direct political action. Overt actions against the Powers That Be are relatively easy to counter and neutralize, and the mechanisms of power are a too diffuse and abstract to attack directly. Most anti-Bey anarchists and other political radicals who define themselves as "serious" as opposed to have generally struck me as puerile, ineffective, impatient, and entirely too caught up in the flash and drama of supposedly "serious" political action.

Living differently on a day-to-day basis, however, is a much more effective strategy in the long term. Simply by existing and going about your business living by a set of principles that the dominant paradigm defines as abnormal/unhealthy/immoral you are accomplishing more than any number of marches on Washington. You could look at the gay rights movement for an example. Obviously, direct protests and political action have made huge contributions, but I think that the biggest impact has been made by ordinary queer couples living together visibly and by queer communities existing openly. Slowly, over the course of decades, people have seen two men kissing in the street enough times to know that the sky's not going to fall if LGBT people are allowed to live openly in peace.

Real and lasting change, in my opinion, isn't driven by legislative action nearly as much as it is driven by cultural change, and that process can be accelerated and consciously shaped primarily by building a subculture and nurturing it until it consumes the dominant culture from within. The problem is that takes time, and patience, and throwing a brick through the window of a Starbucks or marching around chanting and waving signs feels like its accomplishing something worthwhile, even though it generally isn't*. The illusory comforts of direct action allow "serious" radicals to sneer at the mere "lifestyle" radicals, but "serious" radicals, in my experience, are looking more for a shallow sense of immediate gratification and something tangible to justify the enormous chips they carry on their shoulders than they are for actual change.

But then I haven't read him exstensively - am I missing something, or being unfair?

Bey's most important contribution is precisely the shift away from overt political liberation towards psychological liberation and the injection of a sort of loosely-defined spiritual element to the whole thing. Clearly, that's nothing new. You could boil it down to a few lines from a Bob Marley song: "Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery / None but ourselves can free our minds."

However, I think Bey's key insight, for me, in that respect, is into the nature of power and surveillance - basically, that you're already free if no one's paying attention, and the important struggle is not to overthrow the government and replace it with a better one**, but rather the struggle to realize that we are already free to the degree that we can change our state of mind. The liberation struggle then moves into the realms of mysticism and the like, which I think is generally a productive turn. It also moves into the realm of cultural change, which I think is also a productive turn, and when this gets fed back into the surveillance thing, you get the idea of the TAZ, where a collective of people carve a space of invisibility for themselves within the Spectacle and nurture a community with values and practices more conducive to liberation outside of the watchful eye of authority.

It's not that any individual element of Bey's work is particularly original. However, his particular synthesis has been quite powerful and engaging, partially because it's so focused on practical DIY action.

I think his most serious limitations are his knee-jerk technophobia and his reactionary emphasis on the outdated dialectic of authenticity vs mediation/alienation, neither of which is particularly realistic, helpful or liberating. I'm of two minds about the flipside of his technophobia, which is the whole Romantic tendency to glorify the primitive. On one hand, it's all based on the work of people like Margaret Mead, Gimbutas, etc., and it's a bunch of neopagan/New Age bullshit with no grounding in reality. However, there are hints that he seems to acknowledge that it is bullshit, but indulges in it anyway because the myth is empowering. I think the strategy of intentionally deploying mythic tropes semi-self-consciously and post-ironically as a means of facilitating psychological transformation can be a sound strategy. Basically, if indulging in neo-primitivism as a fantasy helps people transform their lives for the better, I'm more-or-less for it, even if it's stupid.

In any case, neither those issues nor the whole sex-with-boys thing prevents me from finding the rest of his work useful.

* I think public protests had more impact in the early days of mass media, but as we moved increasingly towards a niche media society, and as people came to expect protests and demonstrations, they became less and less effective until they became the useless feel-good sideshows they have essentially become. As the psychological shock wore off and emerging technologies made protests easier to marginalize, public civil disobedience ceased to be an effective tactic for social change.

** As long as I'm feeling like trotting out overused quotes, "To fight the Empire is to be infected by its derangement. This is a paradox; whoever defeats a segment of the Empire becomes the Empire; it proliferates like a virus, imposing its form on its enemies. Thereby it becomes its enemies."
 
 
nighthawk
16:57 / 04.12.06
I've been trying to find a decent critique of Bey online, but no luck so far. The best I can come up with is this from Murray Bookchin (he deals specifically with Bey here). Unfortunately, the few good points he makes are marred by his own hang-ups (post-modernism, irrationalism, mysticism), and some (willful?) misreadings of Bey. Still, it might be worth a look.

My boss is on the prowl so I'll have to be quick, but:

Most anti-Bey anarchists and other political radicals who define themselves as "serious" as opposed to have generally struck me as puerile, ineffective, impatient, and entirely too caught up in the flash and drama of supposedly "serious" political action.

Well, I'm sorry that that's been your experience of 'serious' anarchists, but I can't take it very seriously as a criticism. Most lifestylists I've met have been self-righteous middle-class hippies, but I deliberately avoided bringing that up as though it immediately discredited Bey. Also, most of the people I know who share my scepitcism towards Bey are very critical of what I think you're branding 'serious' political action - marches from A to B, lobbying parliament, hopeless direct actions like Sack Parliament, etc. They usually base their politics on organising around people's felt needs, acting collectively in an attempt to make sure they are met, not telling the people around them that they need to embrace a particular subculture if they want to be saved (or if they want to avoid being consumed).

See, this is my problem with lifestylism. It assumes that the only thing wrong with society is that people make the wrong cultural choices; that the only thing preventing people from realising their individual and collective desires is that they are not 'psychologically liberated' (something that Bey and co. will sort out by piercing our clouded consciousness with their poetical terrorism). It completely ignores the concrete material conditions that lead to poverty and inequality, or suggests that if people change their desires the world will somehow adapt to accomodate them, even though it consistently frustrates them at the moment.

In fact, the whole analysis ultimately seems to come down to the fact that we all need to be more like the lifestylists, combined with an implicit disdain for the blinkered masses who would much rather spend their saturday nights watching t.v. than sitting round a camp-fire listening to some hippy sing songs.

Bey's most important contribution is precisely the shift away from overt political liberation towards psychological liberation and the injection of a sort of loosely-defined spiritual element to the whole thing.

I don't really know what to say to this. I find the idea that a 'shift away from overt political liberation' is a good thing absolutely mind-blowing. Maybe I'm in serious need of some poetical terrorism, but I don't think my problems stem from the fact that I'm not psychologically liberated. They're more likely rooted in the fact that I have to spend all day working in a shitty job just to meet my most basic human needs. All the T.A.Z.s in the world won't change that; nor will what I do for kicks in my spare time. If anything, rejecting 'overt political liberation' in this way lends some creedence to comments like this from Bookchin:

Certainly, this view will not repel the boutiques of capitalist 'culture' any more than long hair, beards, and jeans have repelled the entrepreneurial world of haute fashion. Unfortunately, far too many people in this world -- no 'simulations' or 'dreams' -- do not own even their own skins, as prisoners in chain gangs and jails can attest in the most concrete of terms. No one has ever floated out of the earthly realm of misery on 'a politics of dreams' except the privileged petty bourgeois, who may find the Bey's manifestoes amenable particularly in moments of boredom.

Do you really think that a subculture is going to rectify everything (or even anything) that's wrong with society? Yes, the gay rights movement has had some success in combatting prejudice etc., but there's much more to anarchism and radical politics than overcoming prejudice, surely? And based on what I've gathered from other threads on the board, there are plenty of people actively critiquing sections of the gay rights movement for failing to offer a class-based analysis (I think there was some stuff in this thread, for example).


Anyway, look. I have no problem if people find Bey inspiring, if they find solace, inspiration or spiritual sustenance in his ideas, etc. But this is no more likely to effect a radical shift in society than my taste in ice cream. Of course, while I do love rum and raisin flavour, spiritualism will no doubt have a more profound effect on some people's individual psychology and general happiness than a trip to the deli... But that's not my point. Politically, my problem with Bey is that he explicitly sets himself up as offering a radical politics, only to then reject anything concerned with actual material change in favour of a vague spiritualism, a spiritualism that will only meet the immediate needs of a relatively small, relatively secure section of the population. Beyond that, its like saying that christian faith will create the City of God here on earth - absolute nonsense.
 
  

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