“Bleating and babbling, we fell on his neck with a scream,
Wave upon wave of demented avengers
March cheerfully out of obscurity into the dream.”
-Roger Waters, “Sheep”
If you hear a bell tolling this year, no one will blame you for reacting poorly. You know it’s for you, I know it’s for me – we’re all in trouble. I don’t pretend to possess even a cursory understanding of the Chinese Zodiac and its inner workings, and we all know I’d rather make shit up as I go along anyway, but they say it’s the Year of the Sheep, and I can’t say I’m the least bit surprised. Somebody, somewhere, is being led to the slaughter. Right now. All the time. It’s constant, well established, and, at this point undeniable. The only question that remains is whether we can contain the bloodshed within the confines of the fortune (or lack thereof) ascribed to isolated individuals, or whether the ultimate slaughter before us is terminal and collective.
It is for this reason that I’ve spent the last two months laying low and on the run. I knew it was coming, and while I knew this isn’t the kind of storm you can ride out merely by staying indoors, I also know from experience that preparing for this sort of thing requires a great deal of near-paralytic hibernation and time spent holding oneself and muttering in front of a television screen. Having established a new and upgraded base of operations in the heart of Peterborough, I’ve split my time between the relative security of the basement and engaging incognito in clandestine operations in places my enemies are least likely to look and I am least likely to be found. It’s been a tense, paranoid season of shadows. Not only did I skip my own solstice, but the time spent has been neither celebratory, relaxing, or particularly jovial.
I’m emerging now, perhaps somewhat reluctantly, perhaps only out of my own boredom and impatience. Even if I had delayed my emergence further, however, I had to leave the basement sometime. It’s okay to hunker down there from time to time, and sometimes it’s required, but we can’t stay there.
Now, a few words on our current collective indictment.
It’s technically against the rules for individuals to sell loose cigarettes because taxes are not collected against these sales. One can reasonably believe there is nothing inherently unjust about this rule while simultaneously recognizing that its enforcement is not particularly important because its infringement is not particularly impactful. It doesn’t really affect anything if a dude on the street is willing to sell you a cigarette while you walk by. In fact, if you’re late for work and out of smokes and without any time to stop in a store, or if you don’t usually smoke but, damn it, today seems like a good day to have one cigarette, this encounter might make you very glad. Free market, right? Boo-yeah.
Last year, there was a man selling some cigarettes. Police came and, for no real reason, choked the cigarette salesman to death in front of lots of people and, of course, on video. Straight showed up and killed the dude. The cop who choked him to death while the salesman pleaded for his breath and life was investigated by a grand jury, a strange and iffy legal mechanism that always reliably produces indictments. By indicting the police officer who randomly murdered a cigarette salesman, the grand jury would then have sent the case to a trial – again, this is what always happens with pretty much all grand juries.
Instead, the prosecutor, perhaps taking his cue from his brethren in Missouri, threw his own case in order that the grand jury would be forced to effectively tell the maniacal uniformed stealer-of-life that it’s all good.
Some people didn’t think this made very much sense, so they gathered in the streets across the country to express this thought in a manner designed to be heard. Questioning whether or not this made sense, however, wasn’t okay, and those who came out in order to talk about this were painted by many as anarchist bomb-throwing small business hating rioter looter hooligans.
The mayor of the city managed, against his every intention and inclination, to throw gasoline on the fire when he dared hint that maybe it was a bad thing to randomly strangle a cigarette salesman in broad daylight in front of everyone for no real reason at all. He talked about how he tells his kids to be extra careful because they might also get randomly killed. The only reason he tells his children this is because they might also get randomly killed. But that’s all he said – the thing about his kids and that maybe he wishes possibly that police officers ultimately under his command thought it was a bad idea to choke an unarmed dude in the street. Perhaps, he seemed to hint, unarmed dudes in the street should broadly not be choked to death.
In response, the mouth-breathing fascist head of the biggest police “union” found it reasonable to stop just shy of threatening the mayor’s life. For any public figure, withdrawal of protection – precisely the club this hired madman used to menace an elected mayor – is a classic precursor to assassination, never mind his bizarre declaration that the police was now at war with its own executive.
Police began petulantly turning their backs en masse on the mayor, and then they decided to stop doing very much work, in order to really stick it to all the ungrateful assholes. This backfired because it directly and immediately resulted in a measurable increase in the happiness of the people all across the city, and the general level of danger never went up. Turns out, people like it more when the police go the fuck away. (This part of the story is, frankly, hilarious.)
It is easy, accurate, and in most cases necessary to explain these events as a direct and even inevitable result of systemic prejudice, widespread injustice, and institutional corruption. Given their increased militarization and the prevalent approach to law enforcement being a strategy of paramilitary occupation of a hostile populace, perhaps we can expect cigarette salesmen to occasionally get choked to death without warning. The police, like all good criminal conspirators, can be expected to adopt the “we’ll hang together or we’ll hang separately” mantra and toe the line. A conservative prosecutor beholden to a conservative electorate might not have much incentive to indict a good old boy cop for murdering a guy. The fact that prevailing insidious institutionalized racism sometimes allows white people to get away with killing black people has been known and documented for decades.
I mean, it’s over and we’re screwed. The bad guys are winning – have really probably won already and we just don’t completely know it yet. Get your kicks in while you can, because shit’s about to get a whole lot worse. That’s where I’m at with this whole thing, but none of what I just mentioned represents what scares me the most, what made me hesitate at the idea of climbing up those stairs and facing the world above the basement. Not to be a jerk about it, but I know what’s up. I don’t expect good things from police. I’m up to speed on systemic injustice and how the system is intentionally and thoroughly rigged to screw everybody on the bottom. I expect that shit. I hate it and it makes me want to burn things, but it’s not new or shocking to me.
What truly tempts me toward fleeing to Inuit territory and an icy death by starvation that at least comes by my own terms and not the collapsing beams of society’s decaying edifice is the amount of people who respond to this weird and sad tale with a blue uniform hero worship so shallow and irrational I can hardly imagine it passing muster at Fascist Youth Summer Camp. I’m bewildered and rattled that so many people think the cigarette salesman deserved to be choked. Their specific reasoning is malleable and doesn’t even seem to matter so much as the assertion of cultural identity, their answer to the question, Which Side Are You On? No one is forcing them to stage counter-demonstrations or purchase positively demented shirts reading “I can breathe because I obey the law.” What kind of sick weird fuck are you, to want to wear a shirt that says that?
“[W]hen I see an actual flesh-and-blood worker in conflict with his natural enemy, the policeman, I do not have to ask myself which side I am on,” George Orwell wrote many years ago. I’m unable to grasp why this notion is contentious – this moral necessity is so self-evident in my mind that I know of no alternative way to think. The fact that a large segment of our society is actually inclined to side with the armed individual doing the beating rather than the helpless individual being beaten is terrifying.
We’re in trouble. We’re losing. We may have already lost. That’s why I’ve been hiding out wasting time all these weeks. In a universe in which they tell me that most things are dead, it’s always going to be a strange thing to be alive. In a world in which all that is living will eventually end up dead (and assuming that the goal of the living is to continue on living), it’s also always going to be a dangerous thing to be alive. When it comes to understanding the present, however, it’s not merely the story above that proves it but the sum total of all the omens and divinations available to a wizard trapped in a basement or out in disguise, it’s the treacherous and menacing character shown early on by this winter and the scent of the wind in this particular spot in the solar system – in 2015, being alive is going to be extra strange and extra dangerous.
This is the Year of the Sheep. Watch your back, lock your doors, and whatever you do, take your medicine. Do what you need to do in order to keep standing and avoid fleeing, stark raving mad, into the wilderness.
For my part, I need to laugh. I don’t mean to suggest it’s a desirable thing to waste time with laughter in the face of real struggles to be fought and while actual work demands doing, but I render myself impotent and paralyzed if I continuously and without interruption take all of this seriously. I get stuck in the basement or go on the run. I get burnt out without actually contributing anything of worth; merely thinking and knowing put me right on my ass. Better to laugh and have my hands at my disposal, to have my back and shoulders free to carry some little thing here and there when I can, than to maintain a serious and hypervigilant disposition and sink into the jumbled geometrical morass that renders me incapable of anything beyond watching documentaries on Netflix and mumbling about defeat and all the dead heroes. If you’re anything like me at all, I encourage you to do the same.
Another key alternative emerges and begins to take form in my mind. We may be on the road to defeat, destruction, even extinction. Given indications that it may be impossible for us to leave this road, the only choice available to us lies in the manner in which we choose to tread upon it. If we may figure out the optimal, most triumphant, defiant, and musical manner with which to make our exit, and adjust our whole selves accordingly, it might – somewhat paradoxically – represent our single only chance for getting off the road before we reach that exit sign. If that makes any kind of sense, go ahead and think on it for a while. If it doesn’t, let it go for now. It will make sense in time if I have anything to say about it.
When I felt the storm start to roll in before the solstice this year, Sam the Snowman was nowhere to be found. I had no Rudolph to save the day and light the way. This year, the storm blew in and Christmas was canceled. The weed’s been mostly too dull and sedative and everybody drew straws to decide whether they’d be sick with a demonic two-week flu or a satanic two-day stomach purger. These are the days of our lives.
Misty gray-toned broodings in the middle of a frigid starless night in the heart of the Monadnock region’s only aspiring city-state. Instead of singing sweet songs, the Contoocook River wails a siren as though to warn with panicked tone, “Get away! Get back indoors where you might be safe! Get into the basement if you can! Hunker down and just maybe you’ll live to ride it out ‘til it’s over!”
But there’s little safety in cowering, my friends. The jack-boots eventually kick down all the doors. So let’s get out there and do what we can, and try not to get ourselves killed.