Category Archives: essays

I am a socialist.

I attended the convention of the New York City branches of the Democratic Socialists of America yesterday. I was an observer, not a delegate. I sat in the back and marveled at how streamlined they managed to make the whole process for an organization that has increased in size about twelve times over in the past year. The proposals were mostly concise, the discussions swift and lucid, and as the silent voting went on the only sound in the whole place was a happy baby somewhere in the room making happy baby squealing sounds. At around hour 5 I started to get sleepy, so my main suggestion for the process for next year is that the venue be brighter and not kept at a nap-inducing mild warmth. It was not a thrill ride of an event, but I was happy to be there. I was, however, thrilled to see a guy among the delegates who I’d gone to college with, though I hadn’t known him that well. He came up to say hi when I was blearily shuffling to get coffee and donuts from the table in the back, and again in the bar after the convention proper was over.

He’d been more actively engaged in the convention than I was, so I assumed he’d been working with DSA longer than I had and I just hadn’t seen him around. Then he told me he’d joined because of me— that a facebook status I poasted back in January had convinced him to sign up, and that it had gone low-level viral among the alumni community of our school. He encouraged me to share the facebook status so it could be viewed by people who didn’t already know me, and hopefully stir them to action as well. The post follows:

I am a socialist.

 

I rarely say it directly like that, obvious as it is to anyone who’s paying attention to my poasts. I was recently at a meeting where an aging activist told a story about how even back in the heyday of 1960s activism, when marching in the streets and doing drugs and hating the establishment was a given, being a socialist was still something you would only quietly whisper to your closest confidant for the stigma it carried. Now I can say it, though, and so I will, because I want you to join me.

The events of the first few days of the Trump administration has shown us conclusively that while Republicans are cartoonishly evil, Democrats are a bunch of simpering ineffectual ninnies who will tweet about #TheResistance and then vote for anyone Republicans put forward anyway, even if voting against them would be a purely symbolic gesture that would have no consequences. This is because the Democratic establishment is comprised of a group of people who were apparently grown in vats in an underground lab somewhere within the DC beltway for the express purpose of taking up space and following rules, utterly oblivious to the fact that they actually have to appeal to an electorate to maintain power. In the occasions when they do get power, they do nothing with it because they are so concerned with the aspects of politics that absolutely nobody gives a shit about, such as “civility” and “decorum.”

They are so obsessed with civility and decorum that when a protestor socks a neo-nazi in the jaw, the liberal debate becomes “is it okay to punch a neo-nazi” and not “why is anyone giving neo-nazis a platform in the slightest, like seriously how did MOTHER JONES of all fucking publications give Richard Spencer a platform, what the fuck happened to Mother Jones?” Meanwhile, a right-wing extremist literally shoots a protestor in the gut outside of a Milo Yabbadabbadopolis talk and the liberal democrats hardly acknowledge it.

This is to say simply that the Democrats do not care about you. Liberals do not care about you. Democrats are a capitalist party who will pay lip service to the most shallow version of progressive identity politics but do nothing to economically advance the underclass or the oppressed. Liberals will attend a gay pride parade to get their activist merit badge and then tut-tut the incivility of punching a nazi because their love of law and order outweighs their actual sense of human decency on a macro scale.

These things are short-sighted morally and economically. Liberal morals will have you being polite and debating calmly until your last thought is “but I was so polite” as a gun is put to your head. Liberal economics will have a button pop up at the register to ask if you want to donate a dollar to the children who can’t afford healthcare to turn your activism into another act of consumption as you continue to play into an economic system which will devour the world in its drive for endless growth.

The common argument against socialism is that it would eliminate anyone’s incentive to work for a living. We fear a world of automation because it puts workers out of work. Under capitalism a factory staffed predominantly by robots results in capital flowing solely to the owners as the workers get laid off. Under socialism, with the factory as a worker-owned cooperative, robots mean vacations. Obviously you could still work to increase your quality of life. It doesn’t mean there’s no incentive to work, it means there’s no incentive to work for an awful company or a terrible boss who treats you like shit because the alternative is starving to death on the street. It means there’s no incentive for female servers to put up with lecherous customers for the sake of tips. It means there’s no incentive to destroy the planet for shareholder profit.

The way to get to a better tomorrow is through solidarity and numbers. Unflagging resolve and refusal to capitulate. Believing in and adhering to principles. Not the liberal democrat version of resistance where you buckle at the slightest pressure to avoid conflict. So I am writing this explicitly to recruit you, because I believe resistance to Trump must also be resistance to capitalism. He is capitalism embodied— short sighted and opulent and exploitative and potentially leading to the downfall of humanity and earth.

I do not have an immediate answer to this. I have no illusions about being The Protagonist Of The Resistance because there isn’t any one person. We are in this together. So I encourage you to join the Democratic Socialists of America. The DSA’s membership is surging to the point that the last meeting I went to had to have a secondary overflow meeting across the street. With greater numbers and funding than before they are organizing action committees on the various struggles facing us under the Trump administration, from helping maintain picket lines during strikes to sending aid to the water protectors at Standing Rock.

I do not know where we go from here, but I know we must do it together. There has been some criticism that the DSA has not been very effective in the past, and this is not unwarranted. However, they’ve been around since 1981, and their membership gained over all that time has doubled in the past few months. Let’s keep it up, organize, and actually do the work. There’s chapters all around the country. You can start your own chapter if you’re in an area without one and think there would be enough interest.

It is easy to feel despair. The only thing truly giving me hope since the election has been the spirit of solidarity with my comrades since joining the DSA. I encourage you to stand with us in solidarity, for a better tomorrow, for a world of mercy and generosity, for a world that is not beyond hope.

To cap it off, an excerpt from Rebecca Solnit’s “Hope In The Dark”

I say all this to you because hope is not like a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky. I say this because hope is an ax you break down doors with in an emergency; because hope should shove you out the door, because it will take everything you have to steer the future away from endless war, from the annihilation of the earth’s treasures and the grinding down of the poor and marginal. Hope just means another world might be possible, not promised, not guaranteed. Hope calls for action; action is impossible without hope. At the beginning of his massive 1930s treatise on hope, the German philosopher Ernst Bloch wrote, ‘The work of this emotion requires people who throw themselves actively into what is becoming, to which they themselves belong.’ To hope is to give yourself to the future, and that commitment to the future makes the present inhabitable.

A Quick Primer on Lifting for Radicals

Sorry for the delay in this followup. It’s been a strange few days of shitloads of passive death threats from hundreds of people insinuating I should be shot with a gun so that a bullet pierces my muscles and kills me, along with many calling me a gay mexican weakling, challenging me to fistfights and powerlifting competitions for the fate of the nation, and so on. Yet the training continues.

 

I am not swole or an extremely strong man. I am, at best, mildly burly. I started training later than most and I have something permanently wrong with my left shoulder that causes my arm to pop out of the socket fairly easily. These factors initially deterred me from starting at all, because I used to be able to painfully dislodge my arm by picking up a full bag of groceries and letting my attention drift for a moment. My arm feels more securely attached than ever before thanks to my training, but it will never be completely normal. My shoulder problems led me to sign up for training to perfect my form and get better at coaching others. I will never train the Bulgarian olympic team, but I am good at getting people started with proper form so that they can progress without hurting themselves or wasting time with baffling nonsense exercises involving the use of a bosu ball in a cable crossover machine. Yet the training continues.

I started helping to train activists in my area as a means of building strength and morale among local leftists with an activity generally more productive than drinking until we can’t feel feelings and screaming in horror. I trained people who felt weak and scared because I believed that feeling stronger would help them feel better and more confident and allow them to become more effective activists. I used “punch nazis” as a handy symbolic shorthand for “resist the burgeoning state of white supremacist neofascists through ongoing political organizing and engagement” because that’s harder to say or fit into a tweet. As a result, I now have thousands of people thinking I advocate the wanton physical assault of anyone defending reaganomics because they don’t know any better. Yet the training continues.

If you are here because of the “swole left,” a name I hate, I want to reiterate that I am not advocating for random political violence, that strength training in and of itself will not make you good in a fight, and that getting in physical fights in general is a very bad idea because real modern fascists tend to be violence fetishists who are more likely to carry weapons than most people. Nazi-punching is, however, great headline clickbait. If you want to get good at that, go learn to box. I’m not here to teach you how to do that.

If you read the last post, by now you’ve located a gym with a decent squat rack. Here’s what to do next.

 

1. FIND A COMRADE

If you’re like me, you know people in your area who care about the fate of the world and want to help steer humanity away from ruin, but are so overwhelmed by the scale of the problems of the world that they’ve been paralyzed into inaction because they don’t know where to start. Find this person and ask them to help you. Tell them you need a spotter and somebody to help with your form. They will say they don’t know anything about form. Tell them you’ll learn together. Hold each other accountable.

2. STUDY THE FORMS

The four major barbell lifts are the squat, the overhead press, the bench press, and the deadlift. The best immediate free resource I’ve found on these lifts is this video series from the art of manliness. That is the last time I will ever refer you to the art of manliness. Don’t worry. This book is an invaluable resource as well. That’s an affiliate link. This is otherwise unmonetized.

Master the four lifts and perform them consistently while increasing the weight on the bar, and you will become stronger. This is the basic fact of barbell training. It is more difficult at first because, unlike a nautilus machine, a barbell does not come with instructions and is easy to use incorrectly. So here’s some basic, universal advice.

A. During every one of these movements, do not breathe while the bar is in motion. Take a deep breath, hold it, and brace your abs against it as though you’re preparing to get punched in the stomach. The air in your lungs combined with the tension of your abs will make your torso more structurally stable. Exhaling during a movement makes you deflate and tends to make you more unstable.

B. Wear sweatpants and flat soled shoes, like converse. Dedicated lifting shoes are best if you can find them. Running shoes with bouncy padded soles are your enemy in weightlifting. You want zero bounce for maximum force transfer through your body into the floor.

C. Learn the difference between soreness and pain. Exerting yourself harder than you have before has effects on your body that aren’t altogether pleasant at first. After your first few rounds of training at reasonable work weights, you will experience delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) like you never have before. It will make you acutely aware of the intricacies of your own musculature as every nook and cranny of muscle fiber makes its presence known. This is, however, normal, and after training a few more times it’ll be less intense as your body says “Fine, fuck it, we’re doing this thing regularly now, fine” and gets better at recovery. This is distinct from pain. Pain in joints or bones or ligaments is of greater concern than muscle soreness and is an indicator you are doing something wrong that needs to be fixed before you hurt yourself.

D. The starting position in every lift, before the bar starts to move in earnest, will be wildly uncomfortable and awkward feeling, but not painful. You want to have as much muscle mass already engaged before beginning the movement as you can so that no part of you is loosely flopping around until it suddenly has to pick up the slack of your shit form. In the squat, your arms will be locked behind you, clamping the bar to your torso, and every muscle in your torso will be taught and braced as in point A. In the bench press, your scapula will be retracted and pushed into the bench, and your feet will press into the floor. For some reason people who do not engage their legs while benching tend to have their feet come off the floor. In the press, your whole body below the shoulders will be a tense, rigid column. In the deadlift, your back will be arched before you lift so that it doesn’t start curved and straighten out on the way up, putting unnecessary torque on your spine.

E. When you train you are going to become hungry. Hungrier than you know what to do with at first. You will be acutely aware of your need for nutrients as raw material for your body to use in the production of new strong flesh. Look up recipes ahead of time for ways to produce food with enough protein and calories to satisfy your body’s needs. Bodybuilding.com has a pretty good calculator to determine your necessary macronutrients. If you do not do this wisely, your new startling increase in hunger can rapidly become the most expensive part of your training. Eating enough will often be harder than the lifting itself because it must be dealt with throughout the day and requires planning ahead to do it effectively.

F. Sleep enough. Lifting weights doesn’t make you strong unless you recover from it correctly.

3. REMEMBER YOU ARE GOING TO DIE
If you’re a leftist, you hope for a better world. A world that will take a tremendous amount of coordinated effort to achieve. Time will pass no matter what you do with yourself, and as the time passes you can choose to fight for a better tomorrow or buckle under the pressure of not knowing where to start and resign yourself to paralysis and nihilism. You do not have time for that. You must begin now. If you are trying to dramatically alter the fate of humanity, steering us away from totalitarianism and ecological collapse, you must learn to focus in the face of high-intensity stressors and achieve goals that you previously thought untenable. If you are working for a better tomorrow, you must do so without destroying yourself. There are countless burned-out firebrand activists from yesteryear who devoted themselves to the cause at the expense of their own well-being. Do not destroy yourself, do not despair. Train. Train with friends and comrades. Strengthen your body and mind. Help others do the same.

Humans live and die, and this is inevitable, but those in power would have untold millions die of easily preventable deaths, either through inaction or direct uses of state force. Now is the time to physically train yourself to withstand what America is about to throw at you. They say the underclass must be “personally responsible” for healthcare, and they mean this in the manner of crushing debt or treatment being withheld for lack of insurance. I unfortunately also advocate for personal responsibility for your healthcare, but I only prescribe a barbell, because its benefits are many, its price is low, and the state will not be doing much to help you anytime soon. We know these people are fueled by hate and have no qualms about taking away healthcare and replacing it with a boot stomping on a human face, forever. Whatever other forms your activism takes in the trials to come, you cannot do activism without a body, so you might as well make yours more resilient.

Be under no illusion that what you are doing in the gym is inherently political. It is only physical training. It will not have any direct effect on the state of the world outside of your body, but if you are planning to make the world a better place, your self is a good place to start. As the airplane safety manuals say, you must put on your own oxygen mask before helping others. Prepare diligently, do the work consistently on a moment to moment basis, repeat. As in front of the bar as in politics.

Dedicate your life to a better world.

4. GO TO THE GYM

Warm up with an empty bar on each movement. Then do three sets of five repetitions of squats. Then do three sets of five repetitions of the overhead press or the bench press, alternating each workout. Then do one set of five deadlifts. Everytime you return, add five pounds. Consult the book linked above for a much more detailed summary.

5. DO ACTIVISM
My mind is clear after lifting, and I usually use this opportunity to call the representatives I have on speed dial and yell at them as I walk home. I am calmer, more serene, and I use this time to find what work I can do that day to make the world a better place. My main skill is more as a mobilizer than an organizer: I find unengaged or disheartened idealists and rile them up until I can send them off towards organizers who help them productively contribute to the cause. You must do what you can do. We will not all be organizers, we cannot all be heroes, but we can all contribute. Find others, bring them along. Find leftist activist meetings in your area. If there aren’t any, start a chapter. Host them. Use the newfound serenity from weightlifting to endure the stonewalling of your elected officials and find new ways around it.

But whatever you do, do not think that lifting in and of itself will change the world. It will get you out of the house. It will make you more durable. It may serve as a means to help raise the morale of other leftists in your area, helping you form a community of people dedicated to helping better one another so that they can better the world. These things will make you a more effective activist than someone rocking back and forth on the couch halfway through a bottle of whiskey and involuntarily stuttering the word “terror,” like I used to do.

Those who believe in mercy and generosity and fear power will have to seek power so that those who fetishize power do not get it. Use your strength to help those who cannot be strong. Never denigrate those weaker then yourself. Use power only for good.

Okay. Get going.

Radical Liftists: Why Leftists Should Pump Iron


Today an article about me came out
. I’d like to elaborate on that.

If you are a leftist activist, and you are physically capable, you should lift weights.

The benefits of regular strength training are as much mental as physical. If you feel that your individual efforts are insignificant to the point that you might as well not do them, you need to lift. It will change this belief. When you are capable of ripping a couple hundred pounds of iron up off the floor, you will gain an understanding of your ability to affect your environment through concerted repetitive effort. Repetitive is the key word there, because repetition is what you’re really training for. If you are a leftist, and you believe in the struggle for a better world, you must learn to struggle effectively. As an activist, you will exert a great deal of effort that will sometimes lead to progress but will usually have no clear immediate effect. The important part is that you keep showing up and trying hard.

Strength training and activism are similar in that for most people, the hardest part is getting out of the house and doing it. The will to begin in the face of something that seems ultimately futile is the hurdle. Both weightlifting and activism seem like things that other people do, things that they have seemingly always done, perhaps, and it may seem like if you have not yet begun then you never can begin. This is a bullshit belief. You are stronger than you think and you can grow even stronger, in both body and mind. Growing stronger in body will help you grow stronger in mind.

As weightlifting is often seen as the domain of meatheaded lunks, you rarely hear about the level of mental horsepower it takes. It is not the fine-tuned mental dexterity of solving a puzzle, but an exertion of sheer willpower. You do not appreciate willpower as a conscious thought pattern until you are in a situation where you have no choice but to call upon an untapped reservoir of mental strength to stand up under the crushing weight of a max effort squat, because the alternative is falling on your ass and shamefully scooting out from under the safety pins. There comes a moment, generally on the last rep of the last set, when your budgeted reserve of willpower will be insufficient, the weight will slow, and you will have the choice of giving up or consciously deciding: No. I will do this.

This is what you really have to gain from strength training. Though the idea of training to be strong enough to cave in a nazi’s face is appealing, you will very rarely be in a situation where you get to do that, and strength training alone won’t make you good at it. Closest I’ve come was staring down a man screaming homophobic invective at a gay teenager on the subway until he backed down, sat in stony silence for a bit, then softly murmured “I’m fucking vicious, bitch” as he got off the train. But this is still a rare occasion that you should be prepared for while hoping you don’t encounter it. It’s not a good idea to start a fight. It’s a really, really bad idea to start a fight. A protestor in Seattle was shot. The guys jumped by the 211 crew in the lower east side were slashed with a knife. No matter how strong you are, you are not in an advantage in a situation where you’re facing fascists with weapons. Being strong is not an invitation to start violence, but if violence comes, it may make you slightly harder to kill.

Hope that you will never have to fight in this way, and know that what you will have to do is go out and endure the boring, repetitive work of activism. One day recently, I left the gym and went straight to help deliver a list of demands to my senator’s office. This did not require physical strength and was mostly comprised of standing around an office building that didn’t want me there. But even so, strength training has made me better at standing around. It has helped to clear my head to the point that I am better at enduring boredom and wading through bureaucracy.

As you increase your strength, you are increasing your capacity to help people. I’ve had to carry a person fireman style twice since the election. You are not training to punch nazis. You are training because when you link arms with your comrades, you might as well link strong arms. You are training so that if someone falls at a protest, you can help them right back up. You are training to increase your discipline and willpower to endure the boring slog of daily activism. You are training for a capacity for the endless repetition of something difficult and unpleasant but that you do because you hope for a better future.

I’ll post more in the future about the details of the methods I recommend. For now I want to be clear that the benefits of strength training extend far beyond a potential capacity to disassemble a nazi. The hardest part is starting, so your first homework assignment is just that: to start. Your step one will be finding an accessible, affordable gym that has a barbell squat rack. Not a smith machine. Just locate the place. Determine that it exists, that it meets your criteria, and call the front desk to ask about their squat racks. That’s your day one activity. I’ll get into the details later.

Good luck out there.