Jason Miller is the indefatigable associate editor of Cyrano's Journal Online. His main turf is Thomas Paine's Corner, Cyrano's largest blog. He performs numerous editorial, administrative and promotional tasks, including CJO's newsletter, Mind Detox.
Robert Turnbull is a radical activist residing in northeastern Kansas. He has penned numerous political commentaries under a nom de guerre.
This interview also appears on Thomas Paine's Corner: http://www.bestcyrano.org/THOMASPAINE/?p=1280
Stacks of dead presidents or flesh and blood companions?
Robert Turnbull: I guess I'll start with a rather mundane question. How are you?
Jason Miller: I just looked at some horrific photos of extremely sick and emaciated people who suffer from a drug-resistant strain of TB and AIDS, so I'm feeling blessed because I'm relatively healthy and able to employ my personal strengths to carry out my purpose on Earth.
RT: What is that you consider your purpose on Earth to be?
JM: It's multi-faceted and complex, but if I distill it to its essence and put it succinctly, my primary purpose on Earth is to strive for two causes: animal liberation and socialism.
I realize that socialism is a loaded word, particularly in our benighted land here in the US. But as we talk you'll get a better sense of what I mean when I talk about socialism, which I use as a bit of a catch-all term to describe a more logical and just way of interacting socially, politically and economically.
RT: What do you say to socialism's critics who argue that it has failed each time it's been tried and that it's utopian in nature, and therefore impossible to implement?
JM: Capitalism has predominated for a couple hundred years, give or take. Obviously we don't live in a black and white world, so the line blurs a bit between feudalism, mercantilism, and capitalism as one traces the arc of socioeconomic history. Even capitalism itself has passed through a number of phases and can be described in a number of ways, depending on one's perspective--think of industrial capitalism, finance capitalism (that brought us the $700 billion 'bailout'), relatively unfettered 'free markets' (that gave us the Robber Barons, child labor, slave wages, deadly consumer products, horrific working conditions, monopolies, trusts and the like--the 'good old days'), a mixed economy (which means a heavy dose of capitalism slightly mitigated with just enough socialism to keep capitalism's inevitable crises from collapsing the system and to keep the masses in check), monopoly capitalism (Microsoft and Wal-Mart), corporate capitalism and more. By both moral and practical standards, capitalism is an abject failure. Concentrating the wealth and power in the hands of a few while 35,000 people starve to death each day is unconscionable and attempted infinite growth on a finite planet is a recipe for disaster.
Socialism hasn't had the ghost of a chance to take root, let alone flourish. Pitted against the militaristic, economic, and propagandistic might of capitalism, each attempt to tear down and rebuild socioeconomic and political structures along more egalitarian, rational, just and democratic lines has been destined to severe malformation or failure. Capitalism's apologists decry the fact that socialism's proponents raise that argument repeatedly, yet there is no intellectually honest refutation. Time and again Father Capitalism has strangled Baby Socialism with its umbilical cord as it has emerged from the womb.
Despite a heroic effort by the Russians, the forces of American Capitalism saw to it that the flames of revolution against the bourgeoisie were extinguished by the strain of the Cold War on an economy 1/5 the size that of the US that was already stressed by a scramble to industrialize a largely agrarian society and by the loss of 25 million lives sacrificed to defeat Nazism in WWII.
Cuba is also illustrative of American capitalism's stranglehold on power, though in some ways that small island neighboring us to the south is an ugly reminder to the ruling elite that even they are not omnipotent. Fidel and his fellow revolutionaries overthrew a US-backed dictator. Castro has since heroically defied the Capitalist Menace for decades--practicing heresy in the US power elite's backyard! Yet isolation, containment, and the omnipresent potential of US military intervention have taken their toll on the Cuban experiment and severely retarded its capacity to achieve a fraction of socialism's potentials.
And Hugo Chavez continues to hang tough in Venezuela, much to the chagrin of los Capitalistas'..
Socialism's critics are myopic, ahistorical, fundamentally lacking in moral or intellectual capacity, and/or they derive enough benefit from capitalism that they fear that exercising intellectual honesty might derail their gravy train. And by the way, until I elected to eschew many of its benefits and consciously direct my blood, sweat and tears toward the pursuit of a better society rather than money and power, I was enthusiastically pursuing the 'fruits of exploitation' offered by our wicked socioeconomic structure. But I found it so morally reprehensible that I'm now delighted to defy 'logic,' 'look a gift horse in the mouth,' and bite the hand that fed me.
Growing up as a member of Lou Dobbs's venerated "middle class,"
I had many advantages as a child and young adult that billions of people around the globe will never have. It wasn't even a conscious decision initially, but I began rejecting those privileges and many aspects of "my world" once I hit age 19.
Though I was mostly apolitical, I went through about a six year period in which "immature anarchist" would have described me with a fair degree of accuracy. Walking away from a full scholarship at the university I had attended for three years, leaving a failing marriage, drifting from one low-paying and dangerous blue collar job to another, experiencing temporary homelessness, suffering severe burns in an industrial accident, filing bankruptcy, experimenting with drugs, struggling with alcohol dependency, and having a number of skirmishes with relatives, landlords, employers, and the law--I was rejecting the "American Way" with nearly every fiber of my being, but without conscious intent. I was enraged and defiant, but I didn't really know why.
After years of intellectual, spiritual and physical struggle, I've managed to ascend from my self-imposed hell. By the grace of the Higher Power, I've emerged with a psyche that's free and infinitely stronger than it was prior to my 'fall.'
RT: So you went through some profound changes as a human being?
JM: I'm one of the extremely rare and fortunate individuals who, through my innate strengths of tenacity, persistence, passion, moral imagination, resourcefulness, and a relentlessly analytical mind AND thanks to a confluence of other factors, including serendipitous encounters with incredibly wise and compassionate mentors, was able to make a 'conversion' not unlike that of Saul of Tarsus. I make no claims to saint-hood or perfection, but I have made a significant moral transformation for the better.
RT: So what triggered your 'evolution?'
JM: I'm glad you asked because the answer relates directly to my response to the apologists for capitalism who despise socialism so.
Raw emotion and an unconscious rejection of the myriad toxic elements that comprise our 'culture' and society here in capitalist central, the United States, triggered my mostly self-inflicted downward spiral. I was running and fighting like hell, but from and against what I knew not. To put this into a chronological perspective, my psychological nightmare began in about 1986.
Hitting rock bottom, or actually ramming into it at top speed to be more accurate, jarred me to my senses. I finally woke up and had two epiphanies. One was the fact that I was applying nearly all of my formidable tenacity into fucking up my life. The second was that I wasn't self-destructing because I was masochistic. I realized I had been born with a very potent conscience and with a strong tendency to dissect nearly everything with critical thinking. These traits often put me at odds with the capitalist, speciesist world around me. At that time I had a very limited frame of reference and pitifully few tools with which I could reconcile the nightmarish contradictions. Suicide definitely crossed my mind on more than one occasion.
RT: So you're saying you're better than the rest of us?
JM: No. Not at all. What I'm saying is that most people with reasonably developed intellects and consciences are going to struggle in some way in this ocean of liquefied excrement, and I don't care what you call it--capitalism, corporatism, consumerism, Western civilization--it's a sea of shit. Ignorance, anti-intellectualism, avarice, law of the jungle, deceit, get them before they get you, selfishness, self-centeredness, narcissism, exploitation, and nearly every despicable human trait your mind can conjure are encouraged, amplified, rewarded, and to some degree, necessitated by our rotten-to-the-core system of 'free enterprise.'
Adam Smith's 'invisible hand' is strangling the life out of the planet while .0005% of the population sits atop a mountain of cash that dwarfs Mt. Everest. These vampiric individuals won't rest until they've sucked the Earth and its inhabitants dry. Gates, Mars, Walton, Buffet, Allen, Ellison, Dell, Redstone, Pritzker, Helu, Albrecht, Mittal, Deripaska, Ballmer, Koch--you want a who's who of parasitic ghouls? Check out Forbes.com's list of the world's billionaires. These poster children for gluttony and greed don't work in the sense that most of us do. They may go to an office and do work, but unlike most of us, they aren't compelled to do so in order to function within the system and survive. We bleed, sweat, and cry to keep them in the obscenely lavish lifestyles to which these ruthless bastards have become accustomed--and philanthropy be damned. The money these leeches donate is for PR purposes, tax write-offs and to appease what tiny pricks of conscience they may feel on occasion.
I want to interject here that my passion against the accumulation of wealth does not stem from envy. I have what I need and there's little that I want. Material possessions, power, and wealth hold little meaning for me--I am a minimalist. My zealous pursuit of capitalism's demise is fueled by my insatiable thirst for justice.
So no, I don't think I'm better than others--I'm simply awakened and motivated. And I've surrounded myself with friends and allies who share similar traits, worldviews, and objectives. Most of the people I know who still believe that the hologram of American Exceptionalism bears even a vague resemblance to reality, or that we're actually bettering the world by infecting it with the virus of the American Way of Life (at gun and missile point, no less), are essentially decent human beings who are simply intellectually disarmed and emotionally pacified by the steady barrage of bourgeois, corporate propaganda. Not to mention the fact that many of them are bought and paid for, in most cases unwittingly, with the 'generous' crumbs the ruling class throws them to keep them fiercely loyal to a way of being that provides a relatively comfortable existence for 5% of the world's population at an extreme cost to the Earth, it's other sentient inhabitants, and the rest of humanity.
Now some do 'play the game' with eyes wide open. They are quite aware that the prevailing paradigm is causing alarming rates of deforestation and species extinction, Climate Change, Peak Oil, horrific levels of pollution, gross disparities in access to basic human necessities, the torture and murder of billions of non-human animals each year, resource wars, a serious depletion of potable water supplies, inevitable and recurring economic crises (like the current one), soil decimation, and much more unnecessary murder, mayhem, and destruction. Yet they forge ahead to get their 'entitlements.'
Yes, that's right; I used the reactionary right's pejorative for 'welfare.' The dominionist fucks who think they are 'entitled' to exploit every human and non-human animal and all the Earth's "resources" for their personal pleasure and fulfillment are the ones who are actually leeching off of the rest of us and the planet.
Sarah Palin epitomizes virtually all the loathsome qualities our sociopathic culture inculcates us to worship. She's a venomous, conniving, duplicitous, and hyper-ambitious serpent of a woman who uses cunning to hide her profound ignorance and sublimates her repressed sadism by shooting essentially defenseless animals (she calls it "hunting"), enabling and applauding the murder of wolves with rifles and air-planes (now that's truly 'sporting'), and fighting attempts to keep the polar bears from vanishing forever.
Astoundingly, this transparently vile woman actually came reasonably close to governing the most powerful nation in the world. It is incomprehensible that a decent human being with a functioning mind would vote for a ticket that included such a repulsive member of our species. For Christ's sake! Palin's in bed with Ted Stevens (an indicted felon and probably the most corrupt former member of the Senate--now that's some serious criminality), Big Oil, a secessionist (quite literally in bed with one--while she waves the flag of patriotism until her arm is limp with fatigue), gay-hating social regressives (who would vote for Hitler were he alive today and campaigning against abortion AND who think the Flintstonian version of humanity coexisting with dinosaurs is pretty realistic). Politically, historically, geographically, and socially moronic, she made Paris Hilton look sharp as a whip until she had time to memorize the talking points her GOP handlers spoon fed her.
Yet 58 million people voted for this troglodyte. That's pretty disturbing. Does that mean that she is indeed a reflection of our collective selves? That we Americans are as petty, mean-spirited, narcissistic, obtuse, and belligerent (in a "socially acceptable" way) as Caribou Barbie? That we are but a thin, flexible veneer of respectability super-glued over a decaying, putrefied core that, were it fully exposed, would not even be "decent" enough to make the cut for Jerry Springer' show?
RT: You sound very angry. Liberals are supposed to be a cut above conservatives because they are open-minded, peace-loving, kind, and gentle.
JM: First of all, I'm not a liberal. Early in my sociopolitical evolution I called myself one, but that was before I understood the meaning of the word and had begun to deepen my convictions.
Liberals are reformists. I see no possibility of reforming the American Way of Life. Fuck Bush, Cheney and whomever else has said it's non-negotiable. The death of the American Way of Life is what's non-negotiable. Whether revolutionary forces or Mother Nature take it down, our abominable way of being is going to meet a violent end. And I'm doing my part to help facilitate the demise of American capitalism, which is the term I prefer to use when referring to the ruthless, myopic, irrational, hyper-individualistic, selfish, greedy, narcissistic, speciesist, patriarchal, grotesquely hypocritical, and imperialistic "civilized savagery" we US Americans and our sycophantic allies love to practice.
And, yes, I'm angry. In fact, I feel morally outraged and furious more often than I'd like. Television is both a cause and a symptom of our diseased existence. Consider the corporate media. I can only take its onslaught of pro-corporate, ahistorical, Zionist, and contextually deficient "reporting" in very small doses. Mentally deconstructing the barrage of propaganda posing as news, depraved reality shows, inane sit-coms, and the intermittent Madison Avenue attempts to mind fuck me can be entertaining once in awhile, but more often than not I find myself infuriated by the time I turn off the TV. So I rarely gaze into that highly addictive electronic portal to our hollow, shallow, artificial, instantly gratifying, egocentric, self-indulgent 'culture' that pelts critical thinking and deep feeling individuals with a steady barrages of insults, irritations, frustrations, and reasons to be incensed almost constantly.
RT: If you're not a liberal then what are you?
JM: I'm fairly eclectic actually. Mostly free-thinking Marxist and animal liberationist, I also lean a bit towards anarchy and have some strains of anarcho-primitivism to my worldview. I'm deeply radical in almost all of my thinking but moderate my actions to the extent necessary to function in a sociopolitical environment that lacks the conditions essential for a revolution.
RT: Since you're a radical, you advocate the use of violence, right?
JM: Personally, I'd rather solve problems without resorting to violence. However, sometimes one has little or no choice. I own more than one gun and would not hesitate to use them if the need were to arise--and I don't hunt, by the way.
I hate to burst the bubbles of the mean-spirited regressives who, despite Obama's victory (which was still a victory for corporatism and militarism) still tend to predominate in our cesspool of a society, but not all intellectuals who feel compassion for the defenseless, weak and exploited are pacifists, Hippies, Gandhi-ites, or 'sniveling little book-worms.' My father was an intelligent, athletic, successful (by capitalist standards) man with an abusive, explosive temper that he frequently unleashed on the family. I didn't let him beat me down when I was a child, and as I've grown older, my antipathy toward, and resistance against (by whatever rational means become necessary), regressive bullies have strengthened.
RT: So are you taunting or challenging "regressives" as you call them?
JM: Not at all. I'm simply expressing the fact that not all of us who oppose uber-capitalists, neoconservatives, paleoconservatives, Christian fundamentalists, and reactionaries are latte sipping, Volvo driving, Obama supporting "Blue Staters" or carbon copies of Fox's liberal caricature, Alan Colmes.
RT: Maybe you're just projecting your anger at your father onto the world?
JM: I did that for a long time, but not anymore. My anger is focused--I know why I'm angry and I have learned where and how to direct it. I was a slave to rage at one time, but I now channel it so that it is useful and effective. If my ire is still invoked by my father at some unconscious level, it isn't by him specifically; it's by the capitalist archetype he represented.
Remember, I've been working as a corporate wage slave for 15 years now--in fact, I was promoted to 'overseer' of my section of the 'cubicle farm' about a year ago. Aside from doing the work I do to pay the bills for my family, I have learned to function effectively in many ways within a system premised on 'principles' that grate at the very core of my being.
RT: If our society is so bad, why don't you withdraw to the wilderness or move to another country?
JM: I get those types of questions a lot.
Sure, I could become the next Ted Kaczynski. While I have a hard time warming up to his tactics of sending bombs to individuals, he did recognize what a monstrosity our civilization has become and was attempting to do something about it. However, I think I can make more of a difference from my current vantage point doing what I am doing than I could by withdrawing to the hinterlands of Montana and blowing people up via the mail.
Now here's a question for YOU. If I left the US, where the hell would I go that hasn't been infected by the disease of our sociocultural and economic schemes, invaded or occupied by the Empire's shock troops (700 military bases in 150 countries), hijacked by a US puppet, deeply impoverished by neoliberal Chicago School economic rape, bombed into the stone age in the name of 'humanitarian imperialism,' driven to hate Americans for our malevolent foreign policy, and/or stunted and malformed by the repeated attacks of American Capitalism?
That was a rhetorical question.
Besides, my roots are here, as are my house and my family. I was born here, and though my ultimate loyalty is to human and non-human animals and to the Earth, I am an American citizen. This is my home geographically and sentimentally and I'm not about to leave. I can wage my struggle for animal liberation and socialism from here just as well as I could anywhere else.
RT: And you really didn't finish answering my question about the use of violence'.
JM: OK, let's get back into that'
Aside from Thomas Paine, who was "rewarded" for his radical intellectual efforts (which were instrumental in catalyzing the American Revolution, by the way) by expulsion from the "pantheon of our Founding Fathers" and persecution throughout his lifetime, John Brown is my greatest inspiration. Brown, in a noble and valiant effort, fought fire with fire as he warred against pro-slavery forces. Slavery was one of the most evil and violent institutions in history. Brown's use of violence was amply justified from a moral standpoint.
While I'm on the other end of the social spectrum from many of them, I do admire the zeal of radical anti-abortionists. I don't advocate committing murder the way some of them have, but violence is a necessary weapon to have in one's arsenal when employing extensional self-defense against a ruling class that enforces the morally reprehensible status quo with myriad forms of institutionalized and wholesale violence carried out by many different entities. Examples include unprovoked invasions of sovereign nations, Homeland Security, CIA and FBI assassinations, "collateral damage" via bombing campaigns, the War on Drugs, the prison industrial complex, factory farming, ridiculously thin and ineffective social safety nets that keep the poor scrambling just to survive and cause many unnecessarily premature deaths, ICE immigration raids, the use of depleted uranium in munitions, billions of dollars to Israel to finance their genocide of the Palestinians'..I could go on and on.
Don't forget that violence can come in a variety of forms at the retail level too. Monkey-wrenching, vandalism, arson, intimidation, and sabotage are morally defensible means of fighting on behalf of those who can't defend themselves against a merciless, soulless, fascist fusion of the state and corporations. And if the ruling class deploys armed thugs to enforce the primacy of capital over life and Earth, armed insurrection via asymmetrical warfare is both logical and just.
As an example of the skillful, effective, and admirable use of violence, look to the ALF. They have utilized physical force and destruction to liberate countless non-human animals and to hinder numerous animal exploiters and murderers for years--and they've not killed a single human being.
RT: Are you a member of the ALF?
JM: As a vegan and animal liberationist, I hold very deep convictions about the sanctity of non-human animal lives and am part of the movement to eradicate speciesism, which would thereby end the suffering of billions of sentient beings.
However, if you understood the nature of the Animal Liberation Front, you would know better than to even ask that question.
RT: So what do you actually do to advance these causes that inspire your passion?
JM: Well, since my gifts are my capacities to think critically and write, I compose essays that educate, persuade, awaken, inform, analyze, expose, and probably infuriate.
I have been publishing Thomas Paine's Corner http://www.bestcyrano.org/thomaspaine/ since 2004. In 2006 I merged TPC with Cyrano's Journal Online http://www.bestcyrano.org/ and became Cyrano's associate editor, maintaining my site as a semi-autonomous section of CJO. I've devoted countless hours and worked strenuously to create and maintain a publishing platform for radical writers, ideas, and organizations. Since Patrice Greanville, our editor-in-chief, and I place a high premium on our independence, we accept no advertising or sponsorship. Hence, we derive zero income from our endeavor. It actually costs us to keep the site operational. At last count, Thomas Paine's Corner had had almost 2 million visitors in four years. So it's been worth it.
Aside from that, I lead a vegan lifestyle, petition, protest, shun consumerism, distribute pamphlets, work with homeless shelters, boycott, network with other radicals, make personal financial sacrifices that enable me to make meaningful donations to organizations that haven't been co-opted by the corporatocracy, like Paul Watson's Sea Shepherd http://www.seashepherd.org/
and Michele Pickover's Animal Right's Africa http://www.animalrightsafrica.org/ , and engage in some direct action.
RT: What do you suggest other concerned people do?
JM: I defer to Derrick Jensen on that one because I like his answer to that question. I'm paraphrasing, but he essentially said that in this war to save the planet there is a need for people of nearly all ages, capacities, sensibilities, and capacities. It is up to each person to assess their gifts, resources, abilities, and circumstances, and then to decide what they can and are willing to do in the struggle. I outlined what I do. The answer will be different for each person.
RT: And what do you think we need to pursue as mutual objectives?
JM: Ralph Nader advanced an intelligent and morally palatable agenda in the presidential race that just ended, including single payer health insurance, a carbon pollution tax, opening the presidential debates to all candidates, an aggressive crackdown on corporate welfare and corporate crime, repealing the Taft-Hartley anti-union law, ending corporate personhood, making huge cuts to the military budget, increasing spending on rebuilding infrastructure and social programs, increasing progressive and corporate taxes, withdrawing our troops from the Middle East, developing solar, wind and other relatively benign energy sources, cutting funding for new nuclear power plants, and cutting financial support to Israel.
Nader's proposals don't exactly break the back of capitalism, but since we don't have the momentum and consciousness we need for a revolution, these objectives, coupled with immediate criminalization of factory farming and animal testing, will need to be enough.
Attaining these objectives would significantly ease the wounds we are inflicting on the Earth and move us closer to balancing the scales of justice. Yet we would still have a long way to go in the struggle.
RT: Any final thoughts?
JM: I wanted to make a few more observations concerning the way we have organized our society versus how we could organize our society.
As a product of Western civilization and a member of the privileged Caucasian race, I spent many of my 42 years as an avowed individualist and devotee of capitalism. Had I known of Ayn Rand before I began to refine my social and political views, I would have bowed at her altar and worshipped selfishness as a virtue. It's pretty perverse when we resort to mental gymnastics to the extent that we enshrine ignoble human characteristics as "virtues." Or maybe those amongst us lauding greed as a good are simply rotten human beings and don't give a shit. If that's the case, they're the ones who belong in the American gulag rather than the hundreds of thousands of non-violent drug offenders, whose "crime" was self-medicating to mitigate the misery of capitalist-induced poverty.
Rather than perpetuating the 'all about me' ethos of capitalism, how about we the Proletariat organize, mobilize and exercise the strength of our superior numbers to storm the castle walls, throw the royalty out on their fat asses, and open the treasury to those in need? I've got news for you, fellow serfs. Feudalism didn't die. It barely evolved. While the American Revolution had great merit, it was still a bourgeois revolution, of the rich, by the rich and for the rich. Our ancestors threw off the yoke of monarchy only to replace it with that of plutocracy.
There will come a time when calling for the redistribution of wealth will inspire the masses rather than igniting their fury. Yet for now, many of them continue to take a perverse pride in struggling to make ends meet so that senile war criminals like John McCain can marry billionaire beer heiresses and forget how many mansions they own.
I could continue asserting the merits of socialism and cataloguing the contradictions, flaws, and evils of capitalism. However, that debate seems endless and these points have been articulated many times by many others. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding. And once enough people have been bitch-slapped hard enough by Smith's 'invisible hand,' the working class is going to whip up one hell of a batch of tapioca.
I will leave you with one final thought on the subject. One doesn't even need to look beyond the names to recognize the priorities of these two modes of social organization. Capitalism is about property, the means of production, profit, and money. Socialism is about people and community. What do you desire most? Stacks of dead presidents or flesh and blood companions?