As Above, So Below (Halloween Zine)

[October 21, 2015]

PDF of the zine is available here. A goofy / overly-dramatic account of its distribution is below:

Today Western Imperialism is the imperialism of the relative, of the “It all depends on your point of view”; it’s the eye rolling or the wounded indignation at anyone who is stupid, primitive, or presumptuous enough to believe in something, to affirm anything at all. – The Coming Insurrection

On Wednesday afternoon, the Spectacle of Everyday Life was disrupted by a ragtag band of Satanists invoking the spirit of Baphomet. The action was claimed by the Halloweeny Cell of Spooktacular Fire // Autonomous Student Network (ASN-HCSF) in the following communiqué, carried out in solidarity with imprisoned comrades on hunger strike in Transylvania.

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Foucault posits that power is not a tool wielded by monolithic institutions like the University, but rather a series of relations dispersed through its capillaries. One of these capillaries manifests as the structure of space: the way in which the flow of individuals is enforced and reproduced through organizational patterns and internalized social norms to the point of ritualization. No one is quite sure, for example, why the lobby of Litchfield Towers is primarily a place to glide through in passing, to dodge the solicitations of student clubs, and to purchase coffee. Nor do they usually question such fixtures of everyday life; these structures are simply taken for granted as part of our unspoken consensus on reality. And who really even gives a shit in the first place?

Evidently, everyone does. In fact, some people give so many shits that any disruption of routine is interpreted as an affront so atrocious that it warrants physical retaliation. Routine is a mechanism whose parts can be infused, even conflated, with one’s identity; both the structure of a space and its accompanying relations are adopted and personalized. Therefore what is socially permissible is subconsciously equated with what is normal within the logic of the dominant mode of relations: hyper-individualism, respectability, hetero-patriarchal and white supremacist micro-aggressions, adherence to law and authority, Christian morality, capitalism. An inversion of Carol Hanisch’s The Personal is Political, perhaps. Speaking of inversion…

The structure of a space is upheld in part by the ubiquity of cultural symbols. It follows that any successful disruption of this spectacle, any breach intended to call multiple social norms into question, must account for as many dominant modes of relation as possible through the inversion of their symbols. And so that’s what we tried to do. Well, legally this time.

On its most basic level, the structure of space within the University of Pittsburgh facilitates social norms derived from the undisrupted flow of capital: students commuting to and from class, studiously ignoring their surroundings, purchasing/consuming food, school supplies and marketable knowledge, etc. Behind both these norms and the structure of the associated space is the logic of the previously listed dominant relations. For about an hour on Wednesday afternoon, three friends and I took a trip around campus and tried to mess with this structure on as many levels as possible.

One of us, referred to from here on as Our Leader the Dark Lord Baphomet, wore a sinister-looking black cloak and walked with a dignified pace and posture, holding both arms at right-angles and pointing up and down with two fingers, each hand adorned with Satanic rings. Another, referred to from here on as the Candy-Bearer, tied a t-shirt around his face and walked with a pronounced hunch, making sure to present a bowl of candy corn to every onlooker with all the humility he could muster, bowing his head and theatrically refusing eye contact. My third friend, referred to from here on as the Flag-Bearer, also tied a black t-shirt around his face and wore all black clothing. He marched with purpose behind Our Leader the Dark Lord Baphomet, carrying a large black flag in one hand and raising his fist with the other, all the while chanting ominous Latin phrases and other nonsensical sounds.

My role was that of the News-Bearer. I also wore all black clothing and covered my face. I would announce the presence of Our Leader the Dark Lord Baphomet to onlookers, bellowing in my best scary / dramatic / cult-y voice weird things like, “Behold! Our Leader, the Dark Lord Baphomet, has risen! His essence permeates all that once was and all that shall be: He is the whispering of your midterms, He is the soul of your thoughts, He is Insurrection Incarnate! He compels us – you! – to attack now! Destroy this system those who uphold it! Revolt, dear comrades, revolt!” and other things that would embarrass even my closest friends. I also distributed a zine I made for the occasion to whoever would take one. The zine, while mostly just an uncomfortable string of nonsensical phrases, relied on Satanic imagery and slogans to get the point across.

Our little cult paraded through high-traffic spots like the lobby, patio and Market area of Litchfield Towers, a large section of Forbes Avenue and the first floor of the Hillman Library. The reactions were priceless and varied in each location, but I will focus on the ones that were demonstrative of the dominant modes of relations we aimed to challenge.

After announcing the presence of Our Leader the Dark Lord Baphomet near the 7/11 on Forbes, we got the attention of a group of students in suits that were presumably part of a Fraternity. One of them was wearing a fashionably-exposed crucifix necklace, and when I tried to hand him a zine he slapped the stack out of my hands, gave me a shove and said something along the lines of, “What the hell do you think your doing? Get that shit out of my face, this is so fucked. You look like a bunch of devil-worshippers or ISIS or something. ”

The inversion of Christian symbols had threatened this student’s sense of morality, and so he responded as if we had personally offended him. Our aesthetic had threatened his sense of respectability, as he was a man in a suit and this blatant disregard for acceptable conduct added to the blasphemy, he just had to flex his masculinity. His identity was likely threatened on another level, as this student is white and two of my friends that were with me are not, and the sight of brown people covering their faces seemed to have terrified some part of his whiteness to the point that he felt compelled to reference the Islamic State. Had we not been in a public space structured to facilitate the commuting of pedestrians (the sidewalk), this kid would probably have felt more empowered to escalate his reaction. Luckily, the logic of the space protected us, and he went along his way.

For the most part, people on the sidewalk ignored us with a passion and stared purposefully ahead as we approached. The majority of people refused to even look at us, and when offered zines or candy corn some people would quickly move out of the way, trying their hardest to pretend we weren’t there. Apparently, some folks care so much about following their rituals that even an obstacle standing directly in their path does not warrant a response: not a smile, a frown, a cringe – just get to class, go to work, obey the logic of the sidewalk; whatever this is it doesn’t involve me. The hyper-individualist lie.

In the Towers lobby, freshmen mostly ignored us or stared in confusion. A few pointed and laughed. The only people to take zines were the student groups that were also soliciting causes at the tables on either side of the hall. Some would only take a zine if it was in exchange for one of their flyers. Despite our disruption, the logic of transactional relations prevailed.

Our presence at the Hillman immediately caused a commotion. Unlike spaces that are structured to encourage people to ignore their surroundings and get on with their commuting and consuming, the Hillman is structured to enforce and reproduce the logic of academia. While there is a certain level of sociability present (indicated by the buzz of conversation that hushed as soon as we entered), the Hillman is primarily a place for quiet study where students consume addictive stimulants, twiddle with their smartphones, skim the SparkNotes on this and that subject, and slowly internalize the despondency and despair of the capitalist workplace. Our disruption was immediately spectacularized.

Unlike on the street, all eyes were on us once I announced the presence of Our Leader the Dark Lord Baphomet. Dozens of students instantly whipped out their phones and started filming – some even followed us around. More people than usual took the zines I was handing out (although the Candy-Bearer had less luck), but most people still stared blankly and barely moved a muscle until I gave up and offered one to the next person.

By the time we had completed a lap around the first floor, a security guard started frantically speaking into his radio and followed us outside, glaring and angrily gesturing for us to come back and face the consequences. “Must fulfill duty to defend the sanctity of law and order,” said the robot in his head.

“Finally, some action!” thought the man behind the uniform.

The functioning of space today paints the absurd with the brush of dullness. Our social norms and routines are reproduced ad infinitum by the logic of the spaces they inhabit. Our passive compliance is innocent enough on the surface. Passivity is rooted in self-preservation, and yet it ripples far beyond the social bubble in which it is conceived. Complicity in systemic violence is as easy as attending class.

Every day we participate in these monotonous rituals is another victory for global imperialism. Every micro-level assertion of apathy, every individualized utterance of “this doesn’t involve me”, the flicker of every iPhone… the amalgamation of bourgeois individualism reifies the logic of the dominant modes of relations. Ultimately, it is a logic that measures the impact our lives have on others in the form of statistics: economic growth and taxes for the war machine.

Here in the heart of the empire, our daily lives are predicated on the disenfranchisement of those in the peripheries of the world-system. From the factory farms to the sweatshops, from the minimum wage workers to the adjunct professors, from the ghettos of Baltimore to the warzones of the Middle East, from the plastic water bottles to the Tar Sands, the blood of every periphery feeds into the rituals of everyday campus life. The informal social control of the frat-bro heeds the same call as the formal control of the security guard: Defend the Spectacle!

***

Attack Their Symbols // Disrupt Their Rituals

For the inversion of bourgeois individualism! For the reconnection to life!

ASN-HCSF

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