Mutiny against Mutiny – overcoming a Supreme (in)Justice in an atomised world

Leah Millis, Reuters. Used under Creative Commons License

Are you worried yet?

I am. Genuinely. But what to do? When to act?

The past few days have been some of the most politically concerning since I can’t remember. The RN making major gains in voter share in France. The way that the Supreme Court in the US ruled on the powers of Federal agencies, and then the announcement yesterday stating that a US president is functionally immune from prosecution. Yeah, I’m worried.

So… how do you win the struggle against a Supreme… Court/Justice/Being? In a funny way, that’s been at the core of the radical theological project I’ve been hacking away at… and now the lessons from it are all of a sudden relevant in the realms technology – with the rise of God-like AI – and politics, with the spectre of a rotten Supreme Court that has imbued almost total immunity – could we say infallibility? – onto the office of US President. Here we are in 2024… President as King and Pope. WTF? And HTF to respond?

I recently read the brilliant novel Prophet Song by Paul Lynch, which tells of the slow and brutal degeneration of Ireland into fascism.

The key question in the novel – the protagonist of which is a woman trying to keep her family safe and sane after the detainment of her husband by the secret police – is simple: when is the right time to act?

When do we say, enough of this, and rise up? The frog boils slowly, the water very gradually heating… and suddenly, awfully, it is too much. At what moment do we look beyond ourselves and our smaller interests and realise that something more courageous has to be done for the greater good?

Listening to an episode of This American Life all about Trump’s campaign pledge to exact retribution on his political opponents, I was struck by pettiness of his anger, but mainly by the nostalgia of his supporters.

When asked if they wanted Trump to actually deliver on his promises to go after his enemies, people at one of his rallies were clear: they didn’t. What they wanted was:

“Inflation to go down, lower inflation, gas prices, migrants, the borders closed.”

“I drive a pickup truck, and shit’s getting expensive for me.”

“Just to bring things back to a normalcy, to bring fuel prices back. Just try to take it back to the way it was.”

From Trump voters, via This American Life

For so many – and the responses are very similar from French voters and from those supporting Reform UK here – the agenda is nostalgia. The present is frightening – climate change, the mass movement of people driven by inequality, the cost of living crisis precipitated by war in Russia and the need for energy transition – and when a ‘strong man’ comes along who offers simple answers to these complex questions, they tempt huge support.

I have some sympathy for this response. Life is very, very overwhelming right now, and the richness of our interconnections has been eroded by technology’s omni-mediation of our experience.

But what this has done is rob us of communities of critique where we get to listen to different perspectives, slowly. Instead, the speed of the internet and the pace of the algorithm demands instant, knee-jerk responses and the reduction of complex, interconnected issues to viral slogans.

I heard about this first hand from a close friend who is a parliamentary candidate in this General Election and said just how many people they’d spoken to on doorsteps who are very poorly informed and are getting the vast majority of their information from algorithmically generated social media feeds, which are full of distorted lines that are then repeated again and again.

Talking to Jack Caputo last week he was very, very robust about this: the biggest problem in US politics is the under-education of so many people. If you don’t invest to build people’s brains, and push technologies at them that actively reduce critical reflection, then you have a populace very open to manipulation, very vulnerable to subjugation by a Big Other, or Supreme Entity.

How can we fight back?

Back in 2012 I released Mutiny! – Why We Love Pirates and how they can Save Us. And in 2022 I was privileged to be asked to write an essay reflecting on the book a decade on, which was released by Yo-Ho journals. Jonny Baker blogged a detailed review here.

Looking back on what had happened since the publication of the original book – where I’d called for piratic action to generate change – I accepted that this had not only failed, but been co-opted:

My thesis here is that something rather odd happened. After these moments of ground-swell rebellion, rather than reassert control in the traditional sense, those in power made a more cynical move: they themselves created an illusion of piratic action. They made great plays of being disruptors, of acting to overthrow the stuffy elites. They presented themselves as populists, ordinary folk like us who would turn the tables, drain the swamp and reconfigure society so that it served working people. To do this would require them to be rebels, to be nonconformists and renegades. In short, their solution to the rising tide of mutiny among an increasingly disenfranchised population was to actually co-opt the idea of rebellion. Making this play would enable them to capitalise (literally) on the mood of change. By becoming pseudo-pirates, those who had always been in charge would remain in charge.

Since this was published nearly two years ago, things seemed to have got worse. And, as I discuss in God-Like, the ways that AI has further eroded trust in politics and democracy means that we are in a pretty parlous state.

So what should we do? To quote from my essay in Yo-Ho:

‘It is possible to remake the world,’ Olivia Laing writes in her excellent book about freedom, Everybody. And it is to that hope that we must cling, even as the vessel currently appears to be sinking.

‘There is no republic of unencumbered bodies, free to migrate between states, unharried by any hierarchy of form. It’s impossible to know if it will ever be achieved, but if I’m certain about anything at all, it’s that freedom is a shared endeavour, a collaboration built by many hands over many centuries of time, a labour which every single living person can choose to hinder or advance.

In Getting High — the book exploring the human quest for flight that I wrote after Mutiny — I argued that the idea of freedom has been reduced to an individual trip into some ecstatic above: the body left behind.

We each have a choice whether to join in the work or not, but our liberty is corporate. To site it in the central Christian ritual, this is the ‘mass,’ a ‘communion,’ a gathering together around the death of the gods we once thought might save us, one that precipitates a renewed commitment to our responsibility to save one another.

We are the body, and our freedom requires all of us not to get out of our heads, but to commit to having our feet on the ground together.

Pirating the Pirates – Yo-Ho Journals

In a situation of so much disembodiment, of so much mediation of our reality, our resistance needs to be full-blooded, and fully embodied.

This means giving ourselves to meso-level structures that have mass.

Our democracy is in dire trouble, but the answer is always more democracy, more engagement in democratic structures, getting stuck in. We need people to do the sacrificial work of committing to institutions, or risk these institutions being eroded and corrupted by those who will use them for their own gain – as we have seen.

I try not to be too dramatic about world events, but on this? I think we are in genuine peril. A Supreme Entity in the US poses grave dangers to the whole world. But this is what we have prepared for in all prattle about Radical Theology: to do battle against the Big Other, something I set out in full in the last chapter of God-like, which you can get hold of here. I hope you’ll read it to get that full message.

In the meantime, that question: on the slow rise to boiling, when do we decide to act?

That was the pirate moment. Enough was enough. They had to act for justice, put their bodies on the line. A Mass movement:

Bloodied, beaten, hung from gibbets, their skull and crossed bones so threatened the powerful because it signified their full, corporeal commitment to resisting the wide injustice that they saw impacting slaves, indigenous communities, working people exploited by the rich.

Pirating the Pirates – Yo-Ho Journals

What if Rosa Parks hadn’t refused to move her body? What if the bodies of millions of black people hadn’t then been moved to refuse to put their bodies onto Montgomery buses, to march into water cannons, attack dogs and truncheons?

What if we took our online outrage outside? A mass, a communion, stood shoulder to shoulder in the streets?

But, more than that, what if we got stuck into the local, regional and national institutions? This is how you win the boss level. This is how you make just the injustice of a twisted Supreme Entity: together, peacefully, in unity.

‘Either you submit to the world, or you change the world,’ Olivia Laing concludes in Everybody.

The sailors, press-ganged, bludgeoned and hungry, give each other the eye.

Mutiny, or death.

The clock is ticking, awaiting our decision.

When will it be time?

Get a copy of Mutiny here.


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