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Straight Edge, in print: Sober Living on Louder than War


John Robb
Louder Than War
May 1, 2011

Sober Living For The Revolution, Hardcore Punk, Straight Edge and Radical Politics
by Gabriel Kuhn (PM Press)

It’s going to be nearly three decades since Minor Threat recorded a song that was just over thirty seconds long called "‘Straight Edge."

Those thirty seconds were a riposte to the local in crowd of DC trad rock bores who were so ensconced in the drink and drugs lifestyle that they were confounded by the young singer of Minor Threat’s no drink and drugs world. Unwittingly, he kicked off a whole scene as thousands of kids worldwide became straight edge. Mackaye remains puzzled by his position as the guru of a youth movement and his interview in this book is one if the best I’ve read with the ever-eloquent musician
and that’s saying somethingas he sets the record straight on his intentions with the song.

In the interview, Mackaye covers the nature of music and politics as well as straight edge itself in an open and inspiring way. It’s the first chapter in the book and sets the tone for a series of interviews with key players on the international punk scene from The Refused in Sweden to Man Lifting Banner in Holland and Point Of No Return in Brazil and key powers in several other countries. Each one underlines the international spread of straight edge and its combined bed fellows of hardcore and politics and how it added an intensity to the music that was uncluttered by the drink and drugs.

The interview with Dennis Lyxsen from the highly influential Refused and International Noise Conspiracy and the currently great AC4 is the best I have seen with as well as he discusses the shock value of coming out as a vegan in Sweden in the early nineties but how that has had a big effect in the growth of that scene since then. The Refused album Shape Of Punk To Come has become a key musical influence since then but it’s their politics that are of interest here and the book even reprints the manifesto from the album that is one of those fantastic word spiels that is part political statement and part Situationist skree and part call to arms.

The reoccurring theme in the book is straight edge and how it entwines with politics and how one fed of the other. It makes for a fascinating read and a valuable insight into the idealism that still exists at the heart of rock music.

The book is pretty thick as well and is a perfect size for throwing at anyone who tells you that there is no political or idealistic thought left in rock.

Buy book now | Download e-book now | Back to author page




Gabriel Kuhn Interviewed about Sober Living on Znet

By Gabriel Kuhn
July 20th, 2010
Znet

en français

You are the editor of Sober Living for the Revolution: Hardcore Punk, Straight Edge, and Radical Politics. What is it about?
 
Basically, it's about tracing the history of relations between straight edge and radical politics – by this I mean progressive, anti-authoritarian, egalitarian politics. Straight edge has often been associated with dogmatism, moralism, self-righteousness, and puritanism. Unfortunately, some self-identified straight edge folks have given reason to this, although the extent to which these attitudes have been characteristic for the straight edge scene has been grossly exaggerated. At the same time, it is true that there have been largely "apolitical" sections in the movement that have shown little resistance to these tendencies, which allowed them to flourish and to attract an unfortunate amount of attention. However, there have also always been individuals, bands, and entire scenes – like in Israel, Portugal, or Sweden – for which the union between straight edge and radical politics seemed very natural; and this is the history I've been trying to document in this volume by collecting interviews and essays from different radical straight edge artists and activists.



How did you come to this topic? Are you straight edge yourself?

 
Yes, I've been straight edge for over twenty years. Straight edge has meant a lot to me. I grew up in a small town in western Austria, in an environment where youths, especially boys, were expected to start drinking when they were like thirteen or fourteen. I was the only one in my town who rejected this, except for kids from really conservative Christian homes who I didn't hang out with either. So there was a sense of isolation and I constantly had to defend my choice of not drinking and, later, of not doing other drugs.
 
Finding out about straight edge was one of the most exciting discoveries of my life: not only did it mean that there were other kids like me out there – kids into underground music and culture yet with no interest in drugs – but it also meant that there was an entire movement that stood for my choices and ideas; in other words, there was a collective I could identify with!
 
The problem was that when I finally came in closer contact with straight edge scenes – in 1994, when I moved to the US – I was terribly disappointed, because some of the politics seemed so screwed. You must remember that this was a time when the hardline movement was really strong, and when you still had a very pronounced male dominance in the scene. Out of this came a highly ambiguous relationship with straight edge: it still meant a lot to me and I wanted to be part of it – yet I did not feel connected to many factions of the movement. I think it was this ambiguity that gave me the idea for the book: I wanted to document the parts of straight edge history that I could identify with; the parts that, to me personally, made straight edge the most inspiring and beautiful.

How do you see the evolution of the straight edge movement?
 
I think that straight edge has developed in many different ways, which is good – although I could do without the conservative elements.
 
In particular the last ten years have brought real diversity, also on a musical level. Straight edge is no longer tied to the youth crew style of the 1980s or the metalcore of the 1990s – today you have straight edge acoustic acts, straight edge power violence bands and everything in-between. There are also different definitions of straight edge – the most contentious issues are veganism, sexuality, and the exact understanding of drugs/intoxicants – and there are different political adaptations, reaching from anarchist to neo-fascist straight edge groups. As I said, the conservative elements I could do without, but in general diversity is good – it enriches and stimulates.


We think that straight edge is a form of désengagement, of refusal of the hegemonic values. So, it is connected to social commitment, against any oppression, and so to veganism also. How do you see it and how do you think straight edge people see it?
 
I like the notion of désengagement, I think it describes one of the political dimensions of straight edge very well. As you say, there is a rejection of hegemonic values and norms. So if you are opposed to the political and economic system that produces these values and norms, being straight edge marks an opposition to it. However, the political direction that this takes is not necessarily clear at first. Fascists reject the current system too, so a mere gesture of opposition is not enough to claim straight edge for left or radical politics. I don't think there is an automatic connection between désengagement and social commitment or the fight against oppression. Something has to be added to allow straight edge to head that way: social and political awareness, a commitment to a just and egalitarian world, empathy and affection. To some, veganism will be an obvious choice to make; others might make other choices with respect to their diets. I don't think that this in itself is decisive. What's decisive is that you fight for a better world for all and that you engage in respectful and comradely dialogue with others who want to do the same. No single individual has the answers as to which exact forms of behavior or conduct will get us there – but a common effort will guide us in the right way. And what applies to veganism applies to straight edge too: to some it will be an important part of this journey, to others it won't. Some people might prioritize other forms of désengagement. After all, complete désengagement is hardly possible in a world dominated by nation states and capital. In the end, it is the solidarity and the mutual support that counts. For us straight edge folks this means to prove our ability to contribute to this struggle in positive and constructive ways.
 
So this is how I see it. How do other straight edge people see it? I'm not sure. I suppose that some see it similarly, but there are many different understandings of straight edge, including those that reject any connection to politics. As I said before, there is a lot of diversity.
 
In the last years, some far right movements, especially in Russia and Germany, try to integrate the straight edge culture in their ideological models. In France these last months, some people try to follow this pattern. What can you tell us about this tendency making straight edge a social Darwinism?

 
Straight edge in its very basic definition has no clear political content – it merely indicates a refusal of drugs/intoxicants. The political connotations of straight edge come from the context it appears in and from the ideas and notions it is linked to. It is easy for the right wing to claim straight edge: all you have to do is turn it into an ideology (rather than understanding it as a personal choice). Then you can claim that you are a "better", "more advanced", or "superior" person than others. That's the first step to fascism. Possibly, the second one is to tie these sentiments to a notion of "health". While straight edge can certainly contribute to personal health, a political notion of "health" is very dangerous and has been used by all fascist movements – you just have to study their language, fascists always speak of "disease", "plague", or "decay" when they refer to the people and communities they see as inferior. The third step – and this is where we come to today's explicitly fascist and neo-Nazi straight edge adaptations – is when you tie the notion of health to a "race" or a "nation" that you need to "defend" or "preserve" or whatever. Maybe we can speak of a three-step right-wing danger here: 1. self-righteousness ("I am better than you"); 2. social Darwinism ("I am healthier than you and will outlive you"); 3. outright nationalism/racism ("we are better than you and we must maintain our 'purity'"). I think what we have seen in recent years in Russia and Germany – and now apparently also in France, although I don't know much about this – is the third step being more and more clearly articulated. The first two, to be honest, have been haunting straight edge for a long time.
 
How can we resist these developments?
 
I think there is little point in arguing about what straight edge "really" means or in denouncing the right-wing adaptations as "distortions" of straight edge. Right-wing straight edge folks obviously have their own definitions and there is no higher authority to decide who is right and wrong. In the end, we would just exhaust ourselves by throwing definitions back and forth. I think what's more important is to make our ideas as present in the scene as possible and to make them compelling to the people who move in the scene. We will win kids by being welcoming, compassionate, and caring. These are strong values – all the other side got is hate.
 
Yes, but hate is also something very important. We hate oppression and exploitation. And, concerning the three points you talked about, we disagree with the first point. Because, yes, we do consider the vegan straight edge lifestyle as superior to other lifestyles. Would you agree to say that, in your will not to make accurate definitions and in your promotion of spontaneity, you're in favor of an anarchist vision? And that for you, veganism and straight edge don't go necessarily together?
 
Of course it is important to have strong feelings about the terrible consequences of oppression and exploitation. If you want to call that "hate", that's fine. But what you hate in this case is a system, and you hate it because you want people – all people, I suppose – to be happy. People on the extreme right, on the other hand, hate people and that is at the center of their ideology. To me that's a crucial difference, and that's what I meant.
 
As far as the superiority of vegan straight edge is concerned, I guess it depends on what you mean by that. If you think that it is the best way to contribute to as little cruelty as possible in your personal lives, I see no particular reason to argue with that – although I'd like to point out that being vegan straight edge in itself doesn't mean that you can't be an asshole. As I said before, if you want to set a really convincing example for a "cruelty-free" or a "compassionate" lifestyle, your vegan straight edge ethics have to be tied to broad political consciousness.
 
Related to this, the claim that vegan straight edge constitutes a superior lifestyle can become troubling if you really want to make this a universal norm. I mean, if we go to a fishing village in Senegal and tell people that their lifestyle is inferior to ours, our vegan straight edge ethics can easily become cynical and offensive. That's why I don't like to speak of vegan straight edge as anything "superior". I think that vegan straight edge as a political practice makes a lot of sense in certain contexts and under certain circumstances – but we must never forget that billions of people don't share our contexts and circumstances, and hence other things will make more sense to them. Life is diverse, complex, and complicated, and not only is it important to be aware of that, it also makes life exciting. And it is certainly one of the reasons why I don't like to argue about definitions. Definitions help us to negotiate the complexity of life – they are tools, but they hold no truth. That's why I think it's usually pointless to argue about them. You don't win over people's hearts by defining things – you win them over by setting examples of a more joyful life. Does this belief make me an anarchist? Maybe – if it fits your definition of anarchism...
 
Regarding the relation of veganism and straight edge, maybe this helps to illustrate my point about definitions being tools: to me, the two are not necessarily connected, because I define straight edge as abstinence from drugs/intoxicants, and people can abstain from drugs/intoxicants without being vegans. Hence, according to the definition of straight edge I use, there is no necessary connection. If you have a different definition, your conclusion might be a different one too. It can be a lot of fun to discuss these things, but we'll never get to the point where one of us is proven right or wrong – and I don't think that matters either.



How do you see the future of the straight edge movement?

 
To begin with, I am convinced that it will live on. It has survived thirty years, which means that it has stood the test of time. Most straight edge kids today weren't even born when Ian MacKaye wrote the song "Straight Edge" in 1980. Movements that make it this long are usually here to stay.
 
What will the future bring? Even more diversity, I suppose – and hopefully more radical expressions. I am optimistic. I think that there exists both an increasing interest in sobriety in radical circles and an ongoing interest for radical ideas among many straight edge kids. This is promising.



What is the best way to buy the book? Can you tell us about the publisher?

 
The best way to buy the book is to get it either directly from the PM Press website or from an independent bookstore or distributor. That way, the money stays within our community and will go into important political projects.
 
PM Press was founded a couple of years ago and has brought out an impressive list of books, DVDs, and CDs during the short time it has been around. There are a few people involved who have very strong roots in the hardcore punk community, which certainly helped to gather support for this project. If you want to get a better idea of the titles they are putting out, it'd be best to just browse their website.

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Derrick Weston Brown's Wisdom Teeth

By Alan King
alanwking.wordpress.com
April 21, 2011

Derrick Weston Brown holds an MFA in creative writing from American University. He is a graduate of the Cave Canem summer workshop for Black poets and the VONA summer workshop.

Snagglepuss is bitter. He airs his frustrations with the Pink Panther on E! True Hollywood Story, after their short-lived love affair:

“When the big money came calling, 
Ol’ Pinky packed his bags and gave
 me some song and dance about how
I’d never have to work again […]” (from “Snagglepuss Spills his Guts on E! True Hollywood Story”).

Then there’s Bonita Applebum. She’s not just a classic hip hop song anymore. In fact, she’s a grown woman “with a mortgage/ and two degrees under her belt” (from “Remembering Bonita Applebum”).

These are just a few of the characters that populate Derrick Weston Brown’s debut poetry collection, Wisdom Teeth. It’s an apt title for a book in which the speaker cuts his teeth on issues ranging from slavery and gentrification to love and hip hop.

I fell in love with DC all over again after reading “Missed Train”, though that poem could be a testament on dating in DC:

I smelled you at the Metro stop

Tasted you on the Yellow

Glimpsed you on the Green

Caught you on the Orange

Loved you on the Red

Lost you on the Blue
Now I need a transfer
 or at least exit fare.


The elusive woman in “Missed Train” could be a metaphor for unmet expectations either on a date or in a relationship that takes us “for every dime” after investing our time in other people with no returns.
In Wisdom Teeth, the speaker’s searching for stability in every aspect of his life. It’s a journey that takes him through 110 pages and five sections—Hourglass Flow, The Sweet Home Men Series, The Unscene, Wisdom Teeth and Ajar.

And if you’re new to the city, the speaker lets you know what to expect in “What It’s Like to Date in D.C. for Those Who Haven’t”: “It’s like having a mouthful of prayers/ when all you looking for is that one/ Amen.”

Reading Wisdom Teeth, I felt like a passenger invited along for the ride, especially with the poem “Building”. The speaker’s details brought me with him into the coffee shop, where I noticed the “syrup of sunlight” like a second glaze on the wooden tabletops.

I heard the “trash talk and chuckles” of black men playing dominoes. I dug the music in “the snap crack/ of dotted flat backs” and the “dry bones/ glossy bones”.

It would have been easy to take that moment as a commentary on brotherhood and bonding, and not realize the game of bones is just a vehicle the speaker uses to drive his point home with the reader. The true commentary’s in the “steady trash talk” after “Fingers drum the table”: “I’m on my third house./ Where you at?! Jati?/ HUD is officially/ in the building!”

Watching “the bones…/ like unhinged teeth”, I thought of the deteriorating houses in DC’s rundown neighborhoods. Watching as “Jati resets the fracture/ smiling as houses change ownership”, I thought of so-called neighborhood revitalization projects that displaced former residents.

And Jati’s response to his friend’s trash talking? “Eminent domain Fred!/ You getting gentrified!”
I loved the speaker’s clever use of brothers bonding over a game as commentary on the changing demographics in America’s major cities. The speaker’s playful tone in “Building” reminded me how some of us use humor to help swallow those bitter truths.

What also helps those truths go down easy is the fellowship of black men  who “finish/ each other’s sentences” and chase red beans and rice “with/ rum that/ warms the gullet/ makes gut chuckles flow easy” in the poem “Kitchen Gods”.

The men in this poem could be my dad, uncles and grandfather. These are men who “dust off/ old stories like records that hadn’t seen a turntable/ in some time.” And, contrary to masculine myths and stereotypes, these ordinary men “resuscitate the/ ghost of old lovers/ angry indifferent or otherwise.”
That resuscitation is really these guys assessing their life choices—where they’ve been and where they are now. These are hardworking men who support their families, men who’ve grown as a result of their experiences.

The physical details in “Kitchen Gods” are striking. I could see these guys mapping “[…] out/ a woman’s dimensions”, molding “hips out of thin air/ recreating/ her walk and/ arching calves.” I also saw the men dapping up each other and bumping fist “so hard/ rings skip sparks”.

I could hear the conversations punctuated with “g’dams” and “g’lords”. I even smiled at the memory of being shooed “out of the kitchen/ with gentle hands” when I was too young for the adult talk. Now that I’m old enough, I can appreciate the times I’ve been a part of “a small kitchen crew”.

One reason I love Wisdom Teeth is the poem “Gust”:

The sky snarled.
We heard God swallow cumulus,
stratus, and anvil headed nimbus
before the hush.
We ventured outside
Peered up into the calm.
The sky a frosted snow globe
swirl of stars.
The moon
a glossy clear polished
fingernail sliver
winked.
Odd

The wind so strong
I could lean into it
arms out and not fall.
I was Pisa.
What did I know
of nature’s way
of teaching lessons?
That there is
an eye of the storm.
Watch me smile.
My back to the rifle
sight of lassoed menace
clueless to the coming stretch
and yawn of ruin.


In “Gust”, the speaker revisits Charlotte, North Carolina, ravaged by Hurricane Hugo in 1989. I love this poem for other reasons.

If storms are metaphors for troubling times in our lives, then “Gust” speaks to the current political climate: the US military in Libya, rising militias and hate groups, politicians cutting funds for social programs as a solution to the budget deficit.

The “cumulus,/ stratus, and anvil headed nimbus” were the delusions of politicians and some finance experts who convinced everyone else that the markets were economically sound when history has shown us otherwise. “What did I know/ of nature’s way/ of teaching lessons?” Just replace “history” with “nature” and I’m sure that line says what we all were thinking.

God swallowing those delusions was reality setting in. That an alarming amount of people lost their homes to foreclosures makes Hurricane Hugo a metaphor for the current economic crisis, its “rifle/ sight of lassoed menace”.

That corporate CEOs, whose businesses stayed afloat with bailout money from the federal government, went on with business as usual is the sign of lessons not learned.  “Gust”, in its own way, warns against that kind of ignorance that keeps us “clueless to the coming stretch/ and yawn of ruin.”

Wisdom Teeth is right on time. In this collection, as one writer puts it, “Truth cuts its way beneath the unspoken like new teeth on their way to light.” I couldn’t agree more, grateful for their arrival.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Derrick Weston Brown's Author Page




Videoforedrag og intervju med Gabriel Kuhn

Videoforedrag og intervju med Gabriel Kuhn


"Sober Living for the Revolution" lecture by Gabriel Kuhn
from Ola Waagen on Vimeo.

Nettverk for dyrs frihet inviterte den politiske skribenten og oversetteren Gabriel Kuhn til Oslo for å snakke om boken sin «Sober Living for the Revolution». Se video av hele foredraget og les intervjuet vi gjorde etterpå.

"Sober Living for the Revolution" lecture by Gabriel Kuhn

Etter at Kuhn hadde presentert boken sin så hadde Nettzine for dyrs frihet forberedt noen spørsmål som omhandlet boken. Det hele ledet ut i en lengere samtale som du kan lese under.

Har du gjort deg noen tanker om radikal straight edge vil ha en mer naturlig hang til toleranse ovenfor mennesker som ikke er straight edge enn det den mer konservative utgaven av straight edge har?

Absolutt. Et aspekt av boken er den sammenhengen jeg forsøker å dokumentere. Jeg er kun redaktør av boken, det er ikke jeg som har skrevet tekstene i den. Jeg har kun skrevet en innledning, utenom det så er det en samling av artikler og intervjuer som omhandler sammenhengen mellom venstreorientert politikk, radikal politikk og progressiv politikk og straight edge. Jeg forsøker ikke å fremstille straight edge som noen bedre form for å være progressiv eller venstreradikal, men det er en mulig form. En grunnleggende faktor er nettopp toleranse og respekt for mennesker som ikke er straight edge. For meg er det ikke avgjørende om en er straight edge eller ikke. Spørsmålet er heller på hvilken måte en er straight edge. Hvordan en kombinerer sin livsstil med sine politiske ideal. Det kan fungere like godt selv om en ikke er straight edge og det kan fungere om en er straight edge. Det er en kritikk som en ofte hører, at om en er straight edge så har en kanskje et konservativt ståsted. Dette på grunn av at ståstedet om å ikke ville benytte seg av rusmidler som alkohol og narkotika ofte forbindes med en form for puritanisme. Andre ser på straight edge som en form for moralisme og elitisme. Det finnes jo desverre et grunnlag for dette, da det finnes straight edge folk som har tolket på en slik måte. 

Hvis en har en radikal agenda så har en ofte behov for å bygge allianser med andre som kanskje ikke er straight edge. Hvis en kun er konservativ og moralistisk så blir en veldig satt fast i en homogen straight edge "klikk".   

De fleste som er straight edge setter nok pris på å kunne henge med folk som kanskje ikke røyker og drikker overdrevet mye. Men at noen tar seg en øl en gang i blant bør jo ikke skape et problem. At det er en sammenheng mellom alkohol og undertrykkelse er et politisk problem, men at noen tar seg en sjelden øl blir en litt annen greie. Hvis en skal bygge allianser med andre på venstresiden så kan en ikke sette opp strenge regler for hva folk får gjøre og ikke gjøre. En massebevegelse kan aldri bygges opp rundt at alle må være straight edge. Det jeg prøver å vise i boken er at politiske ideal kan deles av både folk som er straight edge og folk som ikke er det. Spørsmålet om livsstil bør ikke komme mellom folk som i utgangspunktet har de samme mål. 


Vi er som du vet en dyrevernspodcast. I intervjuet du gjorde med «Maximum Rocknroll» så sier du at du ikke innlemmer dyrevern i din definisjon av straight edge. Men ser du på dyrevern som en del av din definisjon av radikal politikk?

Hva skulle inngå i min definisjon av radikal politikk? Da mener jeg radikal venstrepolitikk. Det er jo en kamp mot undertrykkelse og lidelse. Dette er jo selvsagt en kamp som går lengere enn å omfavne bare mennesker. Spørsmålet om dyrs rettigheter og dyrs frihet inngår dermed i definisjonen. Men det handler selvsagt om prioriteringer og om en kan forvente at mennesker i utsatte samfunnsgrupper skal ha mulighet til å legge ned masse energi i dyrerettighetsarbeid. Slike diskusjoner oppstår alltid, men det tar ikke bort for min del det faktum at en er mot undertrykkelse, mot lidelse og for rettferd. At dyrevern inngår virker selvsagt for meg. 

Hvis en som anarkist ser for seg et anarkistisk samfunn. Så er det vanskelig å se for seg et anarkistisk samfunn der alle mennesker er frie og egalitære, men så setter man alle andre dyr i bur.  

Ja, jeg synes at spesielt innenfor den anarkistiske bevegelsen i vest-europa så har dyrevern blitt en betydelig større del i disse kretser. Det har vært spørsmål som kanskje har tatt litt lengere tid før folk har tatt til seg eller tatt på alvor. Det finnes selvsagt fortsatt en del motstand innenfor den anarkistiske bevegelsen mot dyrevern. Noen argumenterer med at dyrevern kan være en form for distraksjon bort fra klassekampen, men jeg skulle nesten tørre å påstå at det er en minoritet. 

Vi har vel alle hørt det, eller møtt den typen reaksjoner. 

Jeg blir fortsatt overrasket over hvor provosert noen anarkister og venstreradikale blir av dyrevern. Dette gjelder i grunn også mennesker som er opptatt av økologi. For meg blir det veldig merkelig. Men hvis en tar et ekstremt eksempel der en person overhodet ikke tenker over sammenhenger og sosial undertrykkelse fordi han eller hun kun bryr seg om dyrevern. Der vedkommende forventer at en person som bor ved kysten i Senegal skal være vegan fordi det er den eneste riktige måten å leve på. Det blir et enormt stort krav å stille fra noen som bor i Stockholm eller Oslo og har lett tilgang til veganmat, noe mennesker i en liten by ved Senegal sin kyst ikke har. Det blir en helt annen situasjon. Hvis en begynner å fordømme andre moralsk så kan jeg se at noen tenker at dyrevern kan ha feil fokus. Men det skal sies at jeg sjelden har truffet noen som virkelig har hatt et slik ekstremt dyrevern ståsted.      



Jeg tror ikke jeg har truffet noen for å være helt ærlig. 

Dette er i grunn også overførbart til straight edge. I de over 20 år jeg har vært involvert der så har jeg knapt møtt noen som har reagert negativt på at en person har tatt seg ei øl. Likevel så finnes det mange historier om straight edgere som er fordømmende over den minste lille ting. Det viser seg å være myter. 

Det er jo skrevet flere andre bøker om straight edge og spesielt den amerikanske delen av den kulturen. Da tenker jeg spesielt på «All Ages» og «Burning Fight» bøkene som Revelation gav ut. Da jeg diskuterte noen av disse bøkene med Brian (Catharsis/Crimethinc.) så mente han at de bøkene var lite representative og dårlige og at «Sober Living for the Revolution» var den eneste relevante og gode boken om straight edge. Anser du din bok som en reaksjon eller et motsvar mot disse andre bøkene?

Det er jo smigrende å høre. Jeg har mye respekt for Brian og Crimethinc. Jeg hadde ingen tanke om at min bok skulle være en motvekt mot disse andre bøkene. Jeg ville gjøre en bok som dokumenterte koblingen mellom straight edge og radikal venstrepolitikk, delvis fordi det ikke fantes en slik bok. Likevel, det gjør ikke de andre bøkene dårlige. Hvis en vil litt om hvordan straight edge var på 80-tallet så fungerer All Ages bra som bok. Alle disse bøkene har jo total fokus på USA. Det finnes en bok som heter «The Past, The Present - a history of European Straight Edge 1982 - 2007» som kom ut sammen med en Birds of a Feather-skive hos Refuse Records. Den er desverre ikke så godt distribuert. De andre bøkene handler alle om USA. I «Sober Living for the Revolution» så har en stemmer fra mange ulike land i latin-amerika, europa osv. Sånn sett så har det vært et viktig bidrag å kunne fortelle hele straight edge sin historie, siden den delen utenfor USA knapt har vært dokumentert før.


Jeg føler også at straight edge noen ganger blir urettferdig anklaget for å være konservativt. Band som kanskje ikke var utpreget anarkister eller kommunister, de er ikke Manliftingbanner, de er ikke Refused. Men de har likevel et "politisk" engasjement, Youth of Today sang mot nasjonalisme på We're Not In This Alone-skiva, Outspoken hadde en låt mot homofobi. Det ligger noe radikalt i bunnen også hos disse bandene. 

Om jeg til boken bare skulle tatt utgangspunkt i band som virkelig har gått inn for å definere seg som venstreradikale så hadde det nok ikke vært så mange å velge i. Da hadde jeg stått igjen med Manliftingbanner som alltid blir kjørt frem som et klassisk eksempel på kommunister som var straight edge. Utenom de så er det ikke så mange, det gjør hele prosjektet litt spennende men også veldig komplisert. Hele vegan straight edge greia på begynnelsen av 90-tallet var ikke så tydelig politisk. Selv om de dro frem positive ting som f.eks. økologi så hadde de også en god porsjon moralisme og elitistisk innstilling i bunnen på det hele. De var også preget av at de tok et militant ståsted som jeg personlig fant skremmende. Samtidig hadde du band som Chokehold som også ble definert som en del av vegan straight edge bevegelsen men som på samme tid had et tydelig sosialt engasjement, de var bl.a. pro-abort og mot homofobi. Jeg ville med boken gjerne få noen av disse bandene frem i lyset. Massemedia har jo desverre fokusert altfor mye på de konservative og militante aspektene av straight edge. Det er selvsagt en vinkling som fungerer mye bedre i media. I Salt Lake City så var det jo en straight edge-gjeng som havnet i et slagsmål og en gutt ble drept. Det er jo ekstremt tragisk. Likevel, poenget mitt er at majoriteten av de som er straight edge har ikke for vane å sloss og drepe.


Hadde det eksistert like mange hardlinere som det finnes intervjuer med hardlinere så hadde jo hardline vært stort. Hardline fikk jo en voldsom omtale til å være relativt få personer.     

Hardline er et godt eksempel. Hardline hadde ganske mye innflytelse på sett og vis, men selve kretsen, altså antall personer var jo utrolig få. Mye av hardline går faktisk tilbake til kun en person og det er Sean Muttaqi. Han var høylytt, skrev mye og var aktiv. På grunn av han ble disse tankene spredt. Det var ingen stor gruppe med mennesker. 

Den perfekte straight edge fanzinen på 90-tallet hadde gjerne et intervju med en eller annen representant for hardline, en representant for Krishna-core og kanskje et Ebullition-band. 

Presis! Da hadde man dekt hele spekteret i USA. 

Av de så man kunne si at hardline er en minoritet.    

Det kan man med stor sikkerhet si. Hardline som merkelapp har kommet noe tilbake i totalt nye sammenhenger, gjerne i forbindelse med høyreekstremisme. Uansett hvor kritisk man er til hardline så kan man aldri hevde at hardline var en rasistisk bevegelse. At en ser at høyreekstreme nå benytter den merkelappen har ingenting med den originale hardline-bevegelsen å gjøre. Det eneste fellestrekket kan være den ekstremt militante innstillingen. 

De deler kanskje også noen idealer om renhet og styrke?

Ja, at man kjenner seg bedre enn andre osv. Det var jo en del av hardline. Kanskje også aspektet med å leve naturlig, der de definerte homoseksualitet som noe unaturlig. Når en konfronterte hardlinere med dere utalte homofobi så svarte de som regel at de ikke hadde noe mot homoseksuelle, men at de ikke annså det som naturlig å leve på den måten. Noe jeg synes er veldig rart. 

All seksuell atferd som ikke førte til barn var unaturlig.  

Det er vel slike ting som kanskje høyreekstreme-kretser kanskje plukker opp, "at det finnes en riktig måte å leve på og vi representerer dette". "Vi har rett og alle andre tar feil".


Du er på USA sin "No fly" liste. 

Ja, men det er nok ikke fordi jeg er straight edge. 

Hva tenker du om det forfølgelsen som har pågått mot dyrevernere og likesinnede under dekket av krigen mot terror?

Det er interessant, jeg har fortsatt problemer med å bestemme meg. Mye av det er så absurd at man mest har lyst til å le. Personlig så synes jeg ikke at det spesielt morsomt at jeg ikke kan reise til USA, jeg har f.eks. mange venner der. På andre siden så tar jeg det ikke så tungt, jeg har et bra liv, jeg må ikke reise til USA, det finnes mange andre land jeg kan reise til. Sammenlignet med mange andre mennesker i verden så er jeg veldig priviligert som har såpass stor bevegelsesfrihet. Disse motforanstaltningene i kampen mot terrorisme har gått så langt at det bare blir komisk. På andre siden så finnes det jo eksempel på mennesker som har vært involvert i f.eks. SHAC-kampanjen som har havnet i fengsel i flere år og da blir det ikke lenger komisk. Det finnes eksempel på folk som absolutt ikke har gjort noen ting og er 100% uskyldige. Mennsker som kun har drevet med informasjonsarbeid som en del av en kampanje. 

Ting som kan sidestilles med det vi driver med her i kveld.

At den type arbeid skal forfølges er jo skandaløst, det er åpenbart. Motforanstaltningene er fortsatt fokusert mot en bestemt type aktivister. Mange i USA tror kanskje at den type forfølgelse skal beskytte majoriteten i samfunnet, at det på sett og vis henger sammen med deres sikkerhet. For at de skal føle seg sikre så må disse aktivistene sitte i fengsel. En har jo enkeltsaker som f.eks. Eric McDavid som fikk 20 år i fengsel for kun å ha planlagt Earth Liberation Front aktiviteter. Det er problematisk å bygge opp en massebevegelse mot disse motforanstaltningene siden det fortsatt er for få som berøres og for mange som kjøper argumentasjonen til myndighetene. Det er synd, for det er absolutt nødvendig å bygge opp en bevegelse som driver en hard kampanje mot alt fra relativt små greier som "No fly"-lister til folk som blir idømt lange fengselsstraffer. Jeg må få legge til at "No fly"-listen ikke er morsom i seg selv heller, den spiller kanskje ikke en så stor rolle for meg som er priviligert. Men for mennesker som kanskje er avhengig av å jobbe i USA eller som kanskje har familie der, da blir jo den listen en del av en sosial og økonomisk urettferdighet. Da utarter den listen seg som et veldig stort problem. 

Hvorfor tror du at du har blitt en av de personene som amerikanske myndigheter mener at majoriteten bør beskyttes mot?


De gjør jo en utrolig dårlig jobb når de setter opp slike lister. Det virker totalt tilfeldig. Derfor er jo et håp en kan ha at ens egen status på listen kanskje blir endret. Til og med konservative kretser i USA har jo begynt å kritisere disse listene. Det er flere tusentalls mennesker på dem, noe som i seg selv gjør listene og informasjonen vanskelig å håndtere. De som virkelig planlegger det amerikanerne kaller "et angrep mot deres nasjonalsikkerhet" finner jo alltid en måte å snike seg under "radaren" på. Derfor håper jeg at myndighetene i USA skal ta inn over seg at disse listene kanskje ikke betyr noe fra eller til og dermed kanskje fjerner flere tusentalls navn fra dem. Det var vel helt tilfeldig at jeg havnet på den listen. Sist jeg reiste til USA i 2005 så hadde jeg noen måneder i forveien vært i midtøsten og noen afrikanske land bl.a. Sudan. Da jeg ankom flyplassen i Philadelphia så ble jeg avhørt, først av vanlige "immigration officers", men etterhvert så kom også en terrorist spesial agent fra F.B.I. Det var en kombinasjon av at de fant disse stemplene i passet mitt og at de så gjennom min bagasje og fant et par bøker som de ikke likte. Det var virkelig ingenting spesielt, jeg hadde med en bok om Black Panther Party sin historie. De så også gjennom min adressebok og fant et par adresser de ikke likte. Det var det, derfor havnet jeg på listen. Jeg tror ikke de har ressurser i USA til å følge med på hvem i europa som er engasjert på venstresiden, selv om det absolutt er mulig. Hele greia med "No fly" list er at en ikke får noen forklaring på grunn av nasjonal sikkerhet. 

Det er Gabriel K. og Josef K.                

Hehe. Ja. Det er jo skremmende at om de skulle begynne å f.eks. sette alle dyrevernaktivister på "No fly"-listen så har de mulighet til å gjøre det og de som havner på listen har ingen mulighet for å gjøre noe med det. Det er jo skandaløst. 


Du nevnte SHAC, finnes det andre dyrerettighetsaktivister du har engasjert deg for?  

Jeg har nok mest hatt kontakt med folk fra Earth Liberation Front. Jeg hadde kontakt med en person fra Animal Liberation Front, men jeg tror kanskje ikke de ønsker at jeg skulle nevne de ved navn. Det er vel alltid mellom 5 og 10 ulike fanger som jeg korresponderer med og har kontakt med. Ganske mange har bakgrunn fra straight edge, som er mitt politiske miljø.

Kan du sende «Sober Living for the Revolution» til de som sitter i fengsel eller vil den bli stoppet? 

Det er et godt spørsmål. Mange av de fangene jeg har kontakt med i USA får en ikke lov til å sende bøker til, det må gå via en offisiell bokdistributør. Om det blir sendt formelt og via riktig fremgangsmåte så skulle nok boken komme frem. Min personlige historie om at jeg havnet på "No fly" listen ble publisert i et fange solidaritets-magasin i Canada og den ble jo distribuert til innsatte. 

I det første intevjuet i boken din så forteller Ian MacKaye om en Fugazi-fan som klager på at Fugazi ikke har noen låter som omhandler veganisme. Fugazi sitt svar er selvsagt at alle låtene deres er vegan fordi ingen av bandmedlemmene konsumerer kjøtt eller meieriprodukter. Ian MacKaye irriterer seg over denne personen som klager fordi vedkommende går i vegan Dr. Martens. Ian MacKaye mener at det å ta til seg og fronte denne mainstream-estetikken, der skinn blir fremstilt som noe moteriktig blir et dårlig "statement" for en veganer. Er det noe du har brukt tid til å tenke på?

Jeg synes det var et veldig interessant argument. Jeg hadde aldri tidligere tenkt på vegan "skinn" på den måten tidligere. Jeg har ikke en gang tenkt at Dr. Martens var så moteriktig. Personlig så har jeg aldri vært interessert i Dr. Martens hverken av ekte eller falsk skinn. Jeg synes absolutt Ian MacKaye har et poeng. Han sier jo at utgangspunktet for at mennesker kjøper Dr. Martens er fordi de er trendy. Det er jo vanskelig å se om Dr. Martens er laget av ekte eller falsk skinn og dermed bidrar en indirekte til at skinn selges selv om de en selv har er "fake". Det ligger noe i det. Jeg tror det virkelig blir relevant når det kommer til gjenstander som virkelig er trendy som f.eks. Dr. Martens. Hvis det derimot er snakk om en tilfeldig vegan joggesko så tror jeg ikke det er like godt grunnlag for å si det. En kan ikke slå ned på alt som er "fake"/veganprodukter. Men når det kommer til fake Dr. Martens og et par andre produkter... 


Han er nok ikke fan av den vegan "skinnjakken" som Dennis Lyxzén ofte er avbildet i…       

Nettopp, når det kommer til skinnjakker og den type ting… der er det et interessant poeng.

Det er ingen fra Norge med i boken din. Hva vet du om radikal straight edge i Norge?

Når det kommer til Norge og straight edge så hadde en vel Sportswear og Onward på slutten av 90-tallet og en snakket om en old-school revival. Dette var jo band som kanskje ikke var så uttalt radikale. En hadde jo også denne filmen «Slipp Jimmy fri» der noen vegan straight edge dyrevernaktivister er med. Det var faktisk sist gang jeg hørte noen kobling mellom Norge og radikal straight edge. Bortsett fra det så må jeg innrømme at jeg ikke vet så mye. Har det eksistert noen scene for det?

Det eksisterte i en periode et radikalt straight edge-miljø i Stavanger rundt bandet Purified In Blood. 

Ja, det stemmer. De var jo også internasjonalt kjente. 

Der jeg kom fra i Skien så hadde vi Washington Disease som var tungt influert av Manliftingbanner der vi var innmeldt i trotskisk-organisasjonen Internasjonale sosialister i en periode hele gjengen. Hele straight edge scenen der var knyttet til husokkupasjoner, miljøvern og antirasisme.

Den Umeå straight edge-scenen ble jo så stor i Sverige. Den fikk jo enorm oppmerksomhet på 90-tallet. Straight edge der var jo ofte koblet til progressiv politikk. I Sverige er vel tendensen nå som i mange andre land at straight edge og hardcore-scenen har blitt rimelig upolitisk. En kan si at politikk og aktivisme ikke har noen særlig stor prioritet lengere. 

En har jo fortsatt band som Anchor.  

Absolutt, det er et veldig godt eksempel på det motsatte. Selv om alle i hardcore-scenen ikke er så aktive som en kanskje skulle ønske så ser en jo likevel at deres holdninger er progressive og venstreradikale. Det i seg selv er jo veldig positivt. I andre land så har en jo sett at den høyreekstreme innflytelsen har blitt veldig sterk i hardcore og straight edge, noe som er kjipt. 

I den norske straight edge-scenen så hadde jo f.eks. Onward radikale tekster. Selv om det kanskje ikke var et band en forbandt med å gå i demonstrasjoner, eller spesielt knyttet til blitzmiljøet. Likevel tekstene er fylt med radikal politikk og filosofi. Føler du at den noe mer radikale utgaven av straight edge i Umeå har satt sine spor?


Absolutt. Selv om straight edge-scenen i Umeå ikke er den samme i dag som det var på 90-tallet så merker jo at straight edge har satt sine spor. Det finnes fortsatt møter og arenaer i Umeå der alkohol er "bannlyst". Personlig så synes jeg det er bra. I Stockholm der jeg bor så er det jo rake motsetningen. Normen i Stockholm er at en drikker alkohol når en omgåes i venstreradikale kretser. 

I blant så blir en lei?

I blant kan det litt for mye. Noen ganger kommer den stemningen der en ikke føler seg så komfortabel. I Umeå er det definitivt annerledes. Jeg synes alltid det er interessant når venner jeg har i Umeå kommer til Stockholm for et evenement og alle der er fulle. Det virker som de fra Norrland alltid blir like sjokkert over hvordan alkohol er normen i Stockholm. 

En ser jo også at dyrevern og veganisme har satt sine tydelige spor når en besøker Umeå i dag. 

Absolutt. Selv om kanskje noen har distansert seg fra merkelappen og ikke kaller seg straight edge lengere så er fortsatt normen om rusfrihet og veganisme alltid tilstedeværende. 

Jeg registrerte jo i boken din at Dennis Lyxzén som vi tidligere har intervjuet i podcasten vår ikke lenger kaller seg straight edge. Han ønsket ikke lengere å bruke ned merkelappen.

Hehe. Han har vel likevel fortsatt sin straight edge-tatovering. Det er jo også et interessant spørsmål, en vil leve rusfritt men har kanskje ikke behov for merkelappen. Noen føler straight edge-merkelappen er litt barnslig eller uproduktiv der den skaper et slags skille. Delvis så er det en kritikk jeg kan forstå, men merkelappen skal heller ikke undervurderes. Det hjelper hvis en ser seg selv som en del i en større sammenheng, der en føler et felleskap. Personlig så ble straight edge merkelappen veldig viktig for meg i 16-17 årsalderen fordi jeg var veldig isolert i en liten by i Østerrike. Jeg var ikke interessert i ruskulturen, derimot så var jeg veldig interessert i subkultur, hardcore/punk osv. Derfor føltes det utrolig bra å få vite at det fantes en slags bevegelse. Jeg hadde nok aldri hørt den type livsstil innenfor de rammene om ikke en slik merkelapp hadde eksistert. Derfor er jeg ikke kritisk til straight edge merkelappen. 

Jeg mener det er i Umeå straight edge-bandet Bloodpath sitt demokassett-cover det står noe interessant om dette med merkelapper. En er født med ulike merkelapper som en ikke på noe vis kan velge selv f.eks. mann eller kvinne, svart eller hvit o.l. Bloodpath skriver at de har som mål å ta til seg alle de positive merkelapper som eksisterer som f.eks. straight edge, vegan, antirasist o.l. 

Det synes jeg også er et godt eksempel. En vil kanskje vise omverdenen at en har bestemt seg å leve på en annerledes måte. Det er dermed ikke sagt at om en selv har tatt det valget at en forventer at alle andre også gjør det. Man er klar for å forsvare de valg en har tatt og en skjemmes ikke over de, da kan slike merkelapper hjelpe. Jeg synes det er helt ok at mennesker ikke bare kaller seg for avholds eller rusfri.

Du X'er opp? 


Ja, klart. Straight edge, det er ikke noe feil med det. Alle politiske begrep har en komplisert historie. Kanskje visse aspekter rent historisk en ikke identifiserer seg 100% med, noe som kan være spennende å diskutere. Det var jo også noe av bakgrunnen for å gjøre den boken, straight edge har en verdi, det er noe positivt. 

Med den boken så fikk du jo bevist hvorfor du identifiserer deg meg straight edge. Det ligger noe mer bak enn bare stereotypien med college-jakke og Nike-sko. 

Ja, det var nok delvis meningen. 

Hva er din favoritt dyrevern-låt?

Jeg synes ofte det er bra å gå tilbake til røttene og vil derfor velge «No More» av Youth of Today. En låt de fleste kjenner til, men ofte glemmer man å virkelig lytte. Den låten var oppstarten til masse. 

Tusen takk for intervjuet!

By Gabriel Kuhn
Tuesda, July 20th, 2010
Znet

 

You are the editor of Sober Living for the Revolution: Hardcore Punk, Straight Edge, and Radical Politics. What is it about?
 
Basically, it's about tracing the history of relations between straight edge and radical politics – by this I mean progressive, anti-authoritarian, egalitarian politics. Straight edge has often been associated with dogmatism, moralism, self-righteousness, and puritanism. Unfortunately, some self-identified straight edge folks have given reason to this, although the extent to which these attitudes have been characteristic for the straight edge scene has been grossly exaggerated. At the same time, it is true that there have been largely "apolitical" sections in the movement that have shown little resistance to these tendencies, which allowed them to flourish and to attract an unfortunate amount of attention. However, there have also always been individuals, bands, and entire scenes – like in Israel, Portugal, or Sweden – for which the union between straight edge and radical politics seemed very natural; and this is the history I've been trying to document in this volume by collecting interviews and essays from different radical straight edge artists and activists.

How did you come to this topic? Are you straight edge yourself?
 
Yes, I've been straight edge for over twenty years. Straight edge has meant a lot to me. I grew up in a small town in western Austria, in an environment where youths, especially boys, were expected to start drinking when they were like thirteen or fourteen. I was the only one in my town who rejected this, except for kids from really conservative Christian homes who I didn't hang out with either. So there was a sense of isolation and I constantly had to defend my choice of not drinking and, later, of not doing other drugs.
 
Finding out about straight edge was one of the most exciting discoveries of my life: not only did it mean that there were other kids like me out there – kids into underground music and culture yet with no interest in drugs – but it also meant that there was an entire movement that stood for my choices and ideas; in other words, there was a collective I could identify with!
 
The problem was that when I finally came in closer contact with straight edge scenes – in 1994, when I moved to the US – I was terribly disappointed, because some of the politics seemed so screwed. You must remember that this was a time when the hardline movement was really strong, and when you still had a very pronounced male dominance in the scene. Out of this came a highly ambiguous relationship with straight edge: it still meant a lot to me and I wanted to be part of it – yet I did not feel connected to many factions of the movement. I think it was this ambiguity that gave me the idea for the book: I wanted to document the parts of straight edge history that I could identify with; the parts that, to me personally, made straight edge the most inspiring and beautiful.

How do you see the evolution of the straight edge movement?
 
I think that straight edge has developed in many different ways, which is good – although I could do without the conservative elements.
 
In particular the last ten years have brought real diversity, also on a musical level. Straight edge is no longer tied to the youth crew style of the 1980s or the metalcore of the 1990s – today you have straight edge acoustic acts, straight edge power violence bands and everything in-between. There are also different definitions of straight edge – the most contentious issues are veganism, sexuality, and the exact understanding of drugs/intoxicants – and there are different political adaptations, reaching from anarchist to neo-fascist straight edge groups. As I said, the conservative elements I could do without, but in general diversity is good – it enriches and stimulates.

We think that straight edge is a form of désengagement, of refusal of the hegemonic values. So, it is connected to social commitment, against any oppression, and so to veganism also. How do you see it and how do you think straight edge people see it?
 
I like the notion of désengagement, I think it describes one of the political dimensions of straight edge very well. As you say, there is a rejection of hegemonic values and norms. So if you are opposed to the political and economic system that produces these values and norms, being straight edge marks an opposition to it. However, the political direction that this takes is not necessarily clear at first. Fascists reject the current system too, so a mere gesture of opposition is not enough to claim straight edge for left or radical politics. I don't think there is an automatic connection between désengagement and social commitment or the fight against oppression. Something has to be added to allow straight edge to head that way: social and political awareness, a commitment to a just and egalitarian world, empathy and affection. To some, veganism will be an obvious choice to make; others might make other choices with respect to their diets. I don't think that this in itself is decisive. What's decisive is that you fight for a better world for all and that you engage in respectful and comradely dialogue with others who want to do the same. No single individual has the answers as to which exact forms of behavior or conduct will get us there – but a common effort will guide us in the right way. And what applies to veganism applies to straight edge too: to some it will be an important part of this journey, to others it won't. Some people might prioritize other forms of désengagement. After all, complete désengagement is hardly possible in a world dominated by nation states and capital. In the end, it is the solidarity and the mutual support that counts. For us straight edge folks this means to prove our ability to contribute to this struggle in positive and constructive ways.
 
So this is how I see it. How do other straight edge people see it? I'm not sure. I suppose that some see it similarly, but there are many different understandings of straight edge, including those that reject any connection to politics. As I said before, there is a lot of diversity.
 
In the last years, some far right movements, especially in Russia and Germany, try to integrate the straight edge culture in their ideological models. In France these last months, some people try to follow this pattern. What can you tell us about this tendency making straight edge a social Darwinism?
 
Straight edge in its very basic definition has no clear political content – it merely indicates a refusal of drugs/intoxicants. The political connotations of straight edge come from the context it appears in and from the ideas and notions it is linked to. It is easy for the right wing to claim straight edge: all you have to do is turn it into an ideology (rather than understanding it as a personal choice). Then you can claim that you are a "better", "more advanced", or "superior" person than others. That's the first step to fascism. Possibly, the second one is to tie these sentiments to a notion of "health". While straight edge can certainly contribute to personal health, a political notion of "health" is very dangerous and has been used by all fascist movements – you just have to study their language, fascists always speak of "disease", "plague", or "decay" when they refer to the people and communities they see as inferior. The third step – and this is where we come to today's explicitly fascist and neo-Nazi straight edge adaptations – is when you tie the notion of health to a "race" or a "nation" that you need to "defend" or "preserve" or whatever. Maybe we can speak of a three-step right-wing danger here: 1. self-righteousness ("I am better than you"); 2. social Darwinism ("I am healthier than you and will outlive you"); 3. outright nationalism/racism ("we are better than you and we must maintain our 'purity'"). I think what we have seen in recent years in Russia and Germany – and now apparently also in France, although I don't know much about this – is the third step being more and more clearly articulated. The first two, to be honest, have been haunting straight edge for a long time.
 
How can we resist these developments?
 
I think there is little point in arguing about what straight edge "really" means or in denouncing the right-wing adaptations as "distortions" of straight edge. Right-wing straight edge folks obviously have their own definitions and there is no higher authority to decide who is right and wrong. In the end, we would just exhaust ourselves by throwing definitions back and forth. I think what's more important is to make our ideas as present in the scene as possible and to make them compelling to the people who move in the scene. We will win kids by being welcoming, compassionate, and caring. These are strong values – all the other side got is hate.
 
Yes, but hate is also something very important. We hate oppression and exploitation. And, concerning the three points you talked about, we disagree with the first point. Because, yes, we do consider the vegan straight edge lifestyle as superior to other lifestyles. Would you agree to say that, in your will not to make accurate definitions and in your promotion of spontaneity, you're in favor of an anarchist vision? And that for you, Veganism and Straight edge don't go necessarily together?
 
Of course it is important to have strong feelings about the terrible consequences of oppression and exploitation. If you want to call that "hate", that's fine. But what you hate in this case is a system, and you hate it because you want people – all people, I suppose – to be happy. People on the extreme right, on the other hand, hate people and that is at the center of their ideology. To me that's a crucial difference, and that's what I meant.
 
As far as the superiority of vegan straight edge is concerned, I guess it depends on what you mean by that. If you think that it is the best way to contribute to as little cruelty as possible in your personal lives, I see no particular reason to argue with that – although I'd like to point out that being vegan straight edge in itself doesn't mean that you can't be an asshole. As I said before, if you want to set a really convincing example for a "cruelty-free" or a "compassionate" lifestyle, your vegan straight edge ethics have to be tied to broad political consciousness.
 
Related to this, the claim that vegan straight edge constitutes a superior lifestyle can become troubling if you really want to make this a universal norm. I mean, if we go to a fishing village in Senegal and tell people that their lifestyle is inferior to ours, our vegan straight edge ethics can easily become cynical and offensive. That's why I don't like to speak of vegan straight edge as anything "superior". I think that vegan straight edge as a political practice makes a lot of sense in certain contexts and under certain circumstances – but we must never forget that billions of people don't share our contexts and circumstances, and hence other things will make more sense to them. Life is diverse, complex, and complicated, and not only is it important to be aware of that, it also makes life exciting. And it is certainly one of the reasons why I don't like to argue about definitions. Definitions help us to negotiate the complexity of life – they are tools, but they hold no truth. That's why I think it's usually pointless to argue about them. You don't win over people's hearts by defining things – you win them over by setting examples of a more joyful life. Does this belief make me an anarchist? Maybe – if it fits your definition of anarchism...
 
Regarding the relation of veganism and straight edge, maybe this helps to illustrate my point about definitions being tools: to me, the two are not necessarily connected, because I define straight edge as abstinence from drugs/intoxicants, and people can abstain from drugs/intoxicants without being vegans. Hence, according to the definition of straight edge I use, there is no necessary connection. If you have a different definition, your conclusion might be a different one too. It can be a lot of fun to discuss these things, but we'll never get to the point where one of us is proven right or wrong – and I don't think that matters either.

How do you see the future of the straight edge movement?
 
To begin with, I am convinced that it will live on. It has survived thirty years, which means that it has stood the test of time. Most straight edge kids today weren't even born when Ian MacKaye wrote the song "Straight Edge" in 1980. Movements that make it this long are usually here to stay.
 
What will the future bring? Even more diversity, I suppose – and hopefully more radical expressions. I am optimistic. I think that there exists both an increasing interest in sobriety in radical circles and an ongoing interest for radical ideas among many straight edge kids. This is promising.

What is the best way to buy the book? Can you tell us about the publisher?
 
The best way to buy the book is to get it either directly from the PM Press website or from an independent bookstore or distributor. That way, the money stays within our community and will go into important political projects.
 
PM Press was founded a couple of years ago and has brought out an impressive list of books, DVDs, and CDs during the short time it has been around. There are a few people involved who have very strong roots in the hardcore punk community, which certainly helped to gather support for this project. If you want to get a better idea of the titles they are putting out, it'd be best to just browse their website.

Buy book now | Download e-book now | Back to author page




In Egypt and Tunisia, the Games Must Go On

By Jack Bell
NY Times
April 10th, 2011

The descent into chaos of last week’s African Champions League match in Cairo between Zamalek of Egypt of Tunisia’s Club Africain apparently will not delay the decisions by soccer authorities in both north African countries to resume league play on Wednesday.

Soccer, obviously, took on less meaning during the recent political upheavals in both countries. But the coincidences remain: Tunisia and Egypt were the first Arab nations to experience apparent political openings in the past few months; clubs from the two nations were bystanders as Zamalek’s fans stormed the field; and the decision to resume league play is a bid, in both countries, for a return to normalcy, such as it is. (Leagues in other Arab countries, Libya and Syria, for example, have also been suspended.)

In Egypt, and in Tunisia to a lesser degree perhaps, soccer fans played a role in the antigoverment protests for change. In Egypt, especially, the ultra groups of the two Cairo rivals Zamalek (a club of the British colonists and upper classes) and Al Ahly (a club founded for Egyptians only) formed a tenuous and often uncomfortable alliance to help keep the peace during demonstrations in Tahrir Square, using their acumen with social media and smartphones to maintain communication, much as they do before, during and after matches.

“In the last few years the ultras phenomena has expanded to Egypt,” Gabriel Kuhn, the author of the recently published book, “Soccer vs. the State,” said in a recent telephone interview from Sweden. “Although I’m no expert on Middle Eastern soccer, it seems that the idea of the ultra groups from the two teams coming together in Cairo makes a bit of sense. They are urban, middle-class, Western-oriented and they are organized, which makes their social group a big part of the uprising. In a sense, it fits perfectly with the idea of ultras.”

In Egypt and some other countries, particularly the old Soviet bloc, soccer teams were controlled by various arms of the government, from the secret police (Dynamo Moscow) to railroad workers (Lokomotiv Moscow). In Egypt, the military still runs several club teams. It is a fact of life that Kuhn, a self-professed anarchist who recently found himself on the United States government’s no-fly list, says makes perfect sense.

Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters A boy got in a bit of practice in February in front of army tanks at the Abdeen Palace Museum in Cairo.

“The similarities would be the Eastern bloc, and what we can observe in Egypt and in most countries with authoritarian regimes is that the government can have a big impact on all fields of life, a big influence in sports,” Kuhn said. “And the most popular sport in most countries is soccer. It’s a theme in the book as well, that football is politically contested. On one hand, it’s the people’s working-class sport with an aspect of being self-organized and managed. But it’s always been used as a tool for those in power for propaganda, strengthening their status.”

At the time of the uprising in Egypt, most Western news media reports mentioned in passing the seeming alliance between Zamalek and Al-Ahly ultras in the streets of Cairo. But before the protests, the notion of the fans of the two top teams in Cairo and Egypt sharing a cup of coffee, forget a street protest, seemed beyond comprehension. The Cairo derby, called one of the most violent in the world, is about nationalism, class and, before the uprising, a means to escape to another existence.

“What is interesting politically is that this kind of slips out of the hands of the rulers as people take over and turn the situation into something different that challenges the regime,” Kuhn said. “In that context, it’s also interesting that we’ve seen an uprising in Middle East, where governments have canceled matches because they don’t have control of big groups of people.

“In a lot of countries football matches are events where biggest crowds gather and can make a lot of things possible. Look at Spain during the Franco dictatorship, where Catalan nationalism could be expressed at a football game in Barcelona. The supporters come and create a dynamic all their own.”
After the events in Cairo on April 2, Egyptian soccer authorities were justifiably skittish about their plan to resume league play in Egypt (Tunisia will also resume play on Wednesday). In Egypt, on Wednesday, Al Ahly will play at El Shorta with the rest of the teams playing on Thursday, including Zamalek hosting Haras El Hodood. And the matches will go on, even as African authorities consider what penalties to impose on Zamalek for the behavior of its fans.

“What happened in Egypt fits a pattern of what I describe in my book, and I would have included a bit about it if my book had come out two months later,” Kuhn said. “Because football is so popular as the people’s game it has drawn authoritarian interest. But for the people and their clubs, it is more an expression of class, in my view, and in that group there are all kinds of possibilities.”

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Hardcore Punk, Straight Edge, and Radical Politics

By Gabriel Kuhn
July 20th, 2010
Znet

You are the editor of Sober Living for the Revolution: Hardcore Punk, Straight Edge, and Radical Politics. What is it about?
 
Basically, it's about tracing the history of relations between straight edge and radical politics – by this I mean progressive, anti-authoritarian, egalitarian politics. Straight edge has often been associated with dogmatism, moralism, self-righteousness, and puritanism. Unfortunately, some self-identified straight edge folks have given reason to this, although the extent to which these attitudes have been characteristic for the straight edge scene has been grossly exaggerated. At the same time, it is true that there have been largely "apolitical" sections in the movement that have shown little resistance to these tendencies, which allowed them to flourish and to attract an unfortunate amount of attention. However, there have also always been individuals, bands, and entire scenes – like in Israel, Portugal, or Sweden – for which the union between straight edge and radical politics seemed very natural; and this is the history I've been trying to document in this volume by collecting interviews and essays from different radical straight edge artists and activists.



How did you come to this topic? Are you straight edge yourself?

 
Yes, I've been straight edge for over twenty years. Straight edge has meant a lot to me. I grew up in a small town in western Austria, in an environment where youths, especially boys, were expected to start drinking when they were like thirteen or fourteen. I was the only one in my town who rejected this, except for kids from really conservative Christian homes who I didn't hang out with either. So there was a sense of isolation and I constantly had to defend my choice of not drinking and, later, of not doing other drugs.
 
Finding out about straight edge was one of the most exciting discoveries of my life: not only did it mean that there were other kids like me out there – kids into underground music and culture yet with no interest in drugs – but it also meant that there was an entire movement that stood for my choices and ideas; in other words, there was a collective I could identify with!
 
The problem was that when I finally came in closer contact with straight edge scenes – in 1994, when I moved to the US – I was terribly disappointed, because some of the politics seemed so screwed. You must remember that this was a time when the hardline movement was really strong, and when you still had a very pronounced male dominance in the scene. Out of this came a highly ambiguous relationship with straight edge: it still meant a lot to me and I wanted to be part of it – yet I did not feel connected to many factions of the movement. I think it was this ambiguity that gave me the idea for the book: I wanted to document the parts of straight edge history that I could identify with; the parts that, to me personally, made straight edge the most inspiring and beautiful.



How do you see the evolution of the straight edge movement?

 
I think that straight edge has developed in many different ways, which is good – although I could do without the conservative elements.
 
In particular the last ten years have brought real diversity, also on a musical level. Straight edge is no longer tied to the youth crew style of the 1980s or the metalcore of the 1990s – today you have straight edge acoustic acts, straight edge power violence bands and everything in-between. There are also different definitions of straight edge – the most contentious issues are veganism, sexuality, and the exact understanding of drugs/intoxicants – and there are different political adaptations, reaching from anarchist to neo-fascist straight edge groups. As I said, the conservative elements I could do without, but in general diversity is good – it enriches and stimulates.



We think that straight edge is a form of désengagement, of refusal of the hegemonic values. So, it is connected to social commitment, against any oppression, and so to veganism also. How do you see it and how do you think straight edge people see it?
 

I like the notion of désengagement, I think it describes one of the political dimensions of straight edge very well. As you say, there is a rejection of hegemonic values and norms. So if you are opposed to the political and economic system that produces these values and norms, being straight edge marks an opposition to it. However, the political direction that this takes is not necessarily clear at first. Fascists reject the current system too, so a mere gesture of opposition is not enough to claim straight edge for left or radical politics. I don't think there is an automatic connection between désengagement and social commitment or the fight against oppression. Something has to be added to allow straight edge to head that way: social and political awareness, a commitment to a just and egalitarian world, empathy and affection. To some, veganism will be an obvious choice to make; others might make other choices with respect to their diets. I don't think that this in itself is decisive. What's decisive is that you fight for a better world for all and that you engage in respectful and comradely dialogue with others who want to do the same. No single individual has the answers as to which exact forms of behavior or conduct will get us there – but a common effort will guide us in the right way. And what applies to veganism applies to straight edge too: to some it will be an important part of this journey, to others it won't. Some people might prioritize other forms of désengagement. After all, complete désengagement is hardly possible in a world dominated by nation states and capital. In the end, it is the solidarity and the mutual support that counts. For us straight edge folks this means to prove our ability to contribute to this struggle in positive and constructive ways. So this is how I see it. How do other straight edge people see it? I'm not sure. I suppose that some see it similarly, but there are many different understandings of straight edge, including those that reject any connection to politics. As I said before, there is a lot of diversity.
 
In the last years, some far right movements, especially in Russia and Germany, try to integrate the straight edge culture in their ideological models. In France these last months, some people try to follow this pattern. What can you tell us about this tendency making straight edge a social Darwinism?
 
Straight edge in its very basic definition has no clear political content – it merely indicates a refusal of drugs/intoxicants. The political connotations of straight edge come from the context it appears in and from the ideas and notions it is linked to. It is easy for the right wing to claim straight edge: all you have to do is turn it into an ideology (rather than understanding it as a personal choice). Then you can claim that you are a "better", "more advanced", or "superior" person than others. That's the first step to fascism. Possibly, the second one is to tie these sentiments to a notion of "health". While straight edge can certainly contribute to personal health, a political notion of "health" is very dangerous and has been used by all fascist movements – you just have to study their language, fascists always speak of "disease", "plague", or "decay" when they refer to the people and communities they see as inferior. The third step – and this is where we come to today's explicitly fascist and neo-Nazi straight edge adaptations – is when you tie the notion of health to a "race" or a "nation" that you need to "defend" or "preserve" or whatever. Maybe we can speak of a three-step right-wing danger here: 1. self-righteousness ("I am better than you"); 2. social Darwinism ("I am healthier than you and will outlive you"); 3. outright nationalism/racism ("we are better than you and we must maintain our 'purity'"). I think what we have seen in recent years in Russia and Germany – and now apparently also in France, although I don't know much about this – is the third step being more and more clearly articulated. The first two, to be honest, have been haunting straight edge for a long time.
 
How can we resist these developments?
 
I think there is little point in arguing about what straight edge "really" means or in denouncing the right-wing adaptations as "distortions" of straight edge. Right-wing straight edge folks obviously have their own definitions and there is no higher authority to decide who is right and wrong. In the end, we would just exhaust ourselves by throwing definitions back and forth. I think what's more important is to make our ideas as present in the scene as possible and to make them compelling to the people who move in the scene. We will win kids by being welcoming, compassionate, and caring. These are strong values – all the other side got is hate.
 
Yes, but hate is also something very important. We hate oppression and exploitation. And, concerning the three points you talked about, we disagree with the first point. Because, yes, we do consider the vegan straight edge lifestyle as superior to other lifestyles. Would you agree to say that, in your will not to make accurate definitions and in your promotion of spontaneity, you're in favor of an anarchist vision? And that for you, veganism and straight edge don't go necessarily together?
 
Of course it is important to have strong feelings about the terrible consequences of oppression and exploitation. If you want to call that "hate", that's fine. But what you hate in this case is a system, and you hate it because you want people – all people, I suppose – to be happy. People on the extreme right, on the other hand, hate people and that is at the center of their ideology. To me that's a crucial difference, and that's what I meant.
 
As far as the superiority of vegan straight edge is concerned, I guess it depends on what you mean by that. If you think that it is the best way to contribute to as little cruelty as possible in your personal lives, I see no particular reason to argue with that – although I'd like to point out that being vegan straight edge in itself doesn't mean that you can't be an asshole. As I said before, if you want to set a really convincing example for a "cruelty-free" or a "compassionate" lifestyle, your vegan straight edge ethics have to be tied to broad political consciousness.
 
Related to this, the claim that vegan straight edge constitutes a superior lifestyle can become troubling if you really want to make this a universal norm. I mean, if we go to a fishing village in Senegal and tell people that their lifestyle is inferior to ours, our vegan straight edge ethics can easily become cynical and offensive. That's why I don't like to speak of vegan straight edge as anything "superior." I think that vegan straight edge as a political practice makes a lot of sense in certain contexts and under certain circumstances – but we must never forget that billions of people don't share our contexts and circumstances, and hence other things will make more sense to them. Life is diverse, complex, and complicated, and not only is it important to be aware of that, it also makes life exciting. And it is certainly one of the reasons why I don't like to argue about definitions. Definitions help us to negotiate the complexity of life – they are tools, but they hold no truth. That's why I think it's usually pointless to argue about them. You don't win over people's hearts by defining things – you win them over by setting examples of a more joyful life. Does this belief make me an anarchist? Maybe – if it fits your definition of anarchism...
 
Regarding the relation of veganism and straight edge, maybe this helps to illustrate my point about definitions being tools: to me, the two are not necessarily connected, because I define straight edge as abstinence from drugs/intoxicants, and people can abstain from drugs/intoxicants without being vegans. Hence, according to the definition of straight edge I use, there is no necessary connection. If you have a different definition, your conclusion might be a different one too. It can be a lot of fun to discuss these things, but we'll never get to the point where one of us is proven right or wrong – and I don't think that matters either.



How do you see the future of the straight edge movement?
 
To begin with, I am convinced that it will live on. It has survived thirty years, which means that it has stood the test of time. Most straight edge kids today weren't even born when Ian MacKaye wrote the song "Straight Edge" in 1980. Movements that make it this long are usually here to stay.
 
What will the future bring? Even more diversity, I suppose – and hopefully more radical expressions. I am optimistic. I think that there exists both an increasing interest in sobriety in radical circles and an ongoing interest for radical ideas among many straight edge kids. This is promising.



What is the best way to buy the book? Can you tell us about the publisher?

 
The best way to buy the book is to get it either directly from the PM Press website or from an independent bookstore or distributor. That way, the money stays within our community and will go into important political projects.
 
PM Press was founded a couple of years ago and has brought out an impressive list of books, DVDs, and CDs during the short time it has been around. There are a few people involved who have very strong roots in the hardcore punk community, which certainly helped to gather support for this project. If you want to get a better idea of the titles they are putting out, it'd be best to just browse their website.

Buy book now | Download e-book now | Back to author page




Vegetarian Myth on The Fifth Estate Magazine

A Book Review
by Walker Lane
The Fifth Estate Magazine

Once, at a Tai Chi workshop I attended, an elderly Chinese master of the discipline suddenly stopped in the middle of the demonstration and asked, completely out of the blue, “Why do so many of you not eat meat?”

Since there were quite a few vegetarians among the eager students, the only response was an embarrassed silence and the soft shuffling of cotton-soled Tai Chi shoes.

“There’s good ch’i in meat,” he admonished us in his accented English, referring to the energy flow present in all living things that would enhance us by ingesting that of another being.

Someone, anticipating that the answer wasn’t going to be well received, said weakly, “We don’t want to kill to eat.” “Why not?,” asked the master. “Everything eats everything. One day worms eat us,” he said and roared with laughter at his own comment. Weak smiles came from the assembled students who were thankful that the discussion went quickly back to the training at hand.

This is essentially Lierre Keith’s argument in The Vegetarian Myth— everything eats everything. She views existence as a tightly interconnected circle of life and death encompassing all living beings and the earth itself, and attempts to avoid or circumvent the process only brings the environmental, political, and health disasters she chronicles in her highly charged style.

The myth, referred to in the book’s title, is one held by so many of us, that a non-meat diet can save the animals and the planet, and that a vegetable-based diet is essential for good health. Keith, a vegan for twenty years, denies each of these contentions with a fervor consistent with the manner of all apostates. Her book marshals an enormous amount of supportive evidence from social and medical sciences, and adds her own meatless history which she says almost destroyed her body. Keith, now a vigorous flesh-eater, advocates a return to meat-eating as a way to heal ourselves and the planet, although she’s sketchy on the details of what this would mean. She certainly doesn’t advocate eating at McDonald’s.
 
You might think that an author who identifies herself as a radical feminist activist and who exhibits a driving concern for the damage being done to the environment would get a respectful hearing since her charges are so provocative and challenging not only to vegans and vegetarians, but to mainstream nutrition theories as well.

Instead, she and her book have touched off a firestorm of condemnation, denunciation, calumny, insults, and charges of bad faith against her. Her critics exhibit a fury in many on-line discussions of the book, calling her every name imaginable: a liar, a shill for the meat industry, an “animal holocaust denier,” and a publicity hound, all of which culminated in a physical attack on her while she spoke at the March 2010 San Francisco Anarchist Book Fair.

Three men in masks and black hoodies ran up to her as she spoke and slammed a cayenne-laced pie into Keith’s face, yelling, “Go Vegan.” Several days later, she reported, “My eyes are still puffy and blurry, but the pain is definitely better. I think the worst part was hearing people cheer my assailants while I was being assaulted. I don’t want to live in a world where people cheer while someone has cayenne rubbed into their eyes.”

That act, the equivalent of macing someone, at an anarchist event should be condemned as cowardly and completely unacceptable, but instead has been defended by some. Like anti-abortion terrorists, self-righteousness excuses violence. Most vegans, I’m sure, find this act as reprehensible as any meat eater would.

By the way, there are numerous books in print that make the same nutritional assertions and criticism of vegans as hers, but perhaps the fact that it was an anarchist event spurred the assault.

The North American Animal Liberation Press Office released a statement praising the assailants who “made their statement very eloquently and succinctly on behalf of the billions of animals she advocates killing.” Keith makes it clear that she opposes all factory farming and advocates restoration of forests and prairies.

However, she must be aware, as our imprisoned vegan friend and comrade, Marie Mason—a harsh critic of Keith—is, that cattle grazing has destroyed many of the prairies the author wants to re-establish.

I haven’t eaten land animals in decades and most of my diet consists of grains, legumes, and vegetables, with some additional seafood and dairy products. My health is excellent. So is that of my veggie and vegan friends as well as that of the many famous people such as k.d. Lang, Moby, Morrissey, Rep. Dennis Kucinich, the late Coretta Scott King and Cesar Chavez, numerous professional sports stars including triathletes, body builders, and professional basketball players and baseball players, who adhere to a vegan diet. Yet, Keith says her vegan diet badly injured her body including causing a spinal deformation from which she’ll never recover. She cites anecdotal evidence and studies demonstrating how the body cannot be sustained without ingesting animal fats and protein.

Many critics of her book (and, there are many!) take on her advocacy of meat consumption although much of the on-line rage stems from charges that her book incites “the murder of innocent non-human beings.” To support her nutritional claims, Keith cites endless and seemingly legitimate medical studies affirming her carnivore point of view, many which confound current dietary recommendations including those published by the U.S. government, all which advise limiting meat consumption.

Contrary to what highly respected, independent groups like the Center for Science in the Public Interest advocate, Keith says that a heavy grain-based diet is the cause of what she identifies as the “diseases of civilization”—cancer, heart ailments, and other plagues of our era. Causal factors for disease and the impact of diet on health aren’t as easy to discern as one would think. Am I healthy because of my diet and active lifestyle, or, because I’m a North American, white, middle-class man?

How we live and what we eat greatly effect our health, but so does where we are situated in the class pyramid which often has determinative consequences. Keith says she greatly respects the desire of non-meat eaters to live without killing, but asks them to look at the damage done by agriculture which she refers to (irrefutably, I’d say) as “bio-cide.” The planet-wide swath of agricultural land with its mono-crop planting is really what has killed “billion of animals” that the pie-throwers say they care about.

Keith asks us to look at a piece of land with its thousands of inhabitants, not just its mega-fauna, and see the destruction and death necessary to raise corn for tortillas, wheat for pasta, or rice for biryani. Farming, especially the modern variety with its dependence on fossil fuel eliminates all vegetable and animal life other than the desired crop. When you eat vegetables, it too is on a mountain of corpses, big and small, when one counts the species that have been driven from the land for cultivation including the tiniest of living beings that are eradicated.

So, to eat grains, no less than meat, is to kill. Meat is murder? So is wheat. But, if you substitute the natural process of death for the loaded word, murder, a much different set of ethical standards arise. Keith, like this publication whose critique of agriculture began many years ago, realizes that systems of production have social consequences as well as environmental ones. The historical record is there. The accumulation of the surplus large scale agriculture could produce was the first capital although shortsighted Marxists claim the system of capitalism itself didn’t arise until thousands of years later.

With wealth that could be hoarded, a system of rulers established itself (the State), protected by armed men, created a division of labor, destroyed the matriarchy and implanted angry sky gods who ruled as men did on earth, grouped people into the squalor of cities, and began a relentless drive to conquer with its planetary system. Annual grain production also allowed a population expansion as more people could be fed, and as the number of people grew, so did the need for more land to be brought under cultivation, which produced more grain, which allowed for more people to be fed, which…

What emerges ultimately from her text is catastrophism, the long neglected Deep Ecology concept of Overshoot -- the view that we’ve gone so far beyond the planet’s resources, used up so much of what it could provide to a species in balance with nature, that we are headed for a planetary collapse. Keith, as well as this publication, Deep Ecologists, and even many mainstream observers, state frighteningly that the march of agriculture has brought us to an untenable point as a species. We’ve overshot our carrying capacity with the destruction of forests, watersheds, seas, and the rapid disappearance of top soil and now exist by drawing down on what’s left.

This seems a much more potent question for the pie-throwers to confront rather than whether a human can exist on vegetables alone. If we’re on a bullet train speeding along at 250 miles an hour with a washed-out trestle ahead, does it really matter what’s on our plate in the dining car?

Nutritionists can argue forever about the claims and counter-claims about diet. That discussion is crucial to our individual health, but what do Keith’s critics say to her central theses? Do those who want to live without killing deny that agriculture, which provides 80 percent of the world’s diet, is murderous (in their terms) little different than the death created by meat eating? Keith states, the “foods the vegetarians say will save us are foods that destroy the world.” Doesn’t this necessitate conversation and debate rather than denunciation and violence?

Do Keith’s critics deny that agriculture allowed the first rulers to arise and with them the State, patriarchy, and repressive religions? Or, that with the advent of agriculture, human and animal life became disvalued, and abstraction replaced real experience?

But, even if we agree with her, where does that leave the vegan, vegetarians, and others like myself who eat a reduced animal diet? Maddeningly, Keith gives barely a hint. She certainly doesn’t provide recipes; doesn’t even suggest what proportion of meat properly belongs in a diet (although she offers the Inuits, whose 80 percent meat and fat diet doesn’t result in heart disease or cancer).

She says diet ought to be appropriate to where you live. Keith says the damage the planetary population will experience is unavoidable given the number of people on earth. She says the question is, are people going to attempt to manage what is unavoidable or will the blindly wielded scythe of Nature, neither cruel nor compassionate, do it for us?

Postscript: I almost forgot the other title under consideration, Vegan Freak. Its vapid, chatty text advocating a diet without animal products is seemingly aimed at making late teens gag at the thought of eating even dairy products (Did you know that all cheese “contains at least some pus?” Ew, gross!) The book almost made me go out and eat a burger. 

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Revolution and Other Writings in The Fifth Estate

A Book Review
By David Tighe
The Fifth Estate Magazine

Gustav Landauer is perhaps the most important German speaking anarchist of the late 19th and early 20th century, but he is not well known in the English speaking world. Despite four book length studies of Landauer and a few translations, there has never been a major collection of his work in English. Gabriel Kuhn and PM Press have changed that. Revolution and Other Writings: A Political Reader is a very good introduction to Landauer’s work for the English speaking world. It contains one of Landauer’s most important pieces, Revolution, twenty-nine other shorter essays, and a selection of correspondence. There is also a solid introduction and bibliography.

The focus here is on Landauer’s political writings, although he wrote voluminously on many topics, especially philosophy and literature. This focus is well-considered because reading the entire book gives you a sense of Landauer’s ideas about anarchy, socialism, and revolution that are not always straightforward and obvious. Landauer was deeply influenced by Christian mysticism, especially the work of 12th century German, Meister Eckhart; he even translated some of Eckhart’s writings into modern German. For some, the mystical elements of Landauer’s writings may make them difficult or unappealing, but I find that this search for an anarchist and non-religious mysticism is one of the most interesting and unique aspects of his work.

The essays are arranged roughly chronologically, which is a good way to follow Landauer’s political progression. From his early essays published in Die Socialist, which he edited from 1893-99, you get a picture of the fiery young radical who was described in a German police file (in 1893) as “the most important agitator of the radical revolutionary movement.” By the time we read his critique of propaganda of the deed and political assassination (Anarchic Thoughts on Anarchism, published in 1901), we see a much more philosophical and mystical writer, as seen in the essay Through Separation to Community. At times in the essay he struggles with perception and time.

He speaks of stopping the process of time to see past, present and future simultaneously. Later, he proposes a mystical unity of individualism and community: “the true individuality that we find in the deepest depths of ourselves is community,  humanity, divinity.”

The period of 1900–08 saw Landauer mostly withdrawn from radical politics. He wrote extensively, translated a number of books, including works by Kropotkin, Meister Eckhart, George Bernard Shaw, and with Hedwig Lachmann—three works by Oscar Wilde. He also wrote two of his three most important works: Skepticism and Mysticism in 1903 and Revolution in 1907. Definitely a productive period!

Revolution is easily the book’s most difficult work. Gabriel Kuhn acknowledges this in the introduction: “Landauer’s inconsistent use of the term ‘revolution,’ for example, has confused many readers. In general, Landauer presents ‘revolution’ as a permanent historical struggle for socialism, tied into the renewal of spirit, individuality, and community (in Landauer’s mysticism, all one).

This philosophical interpretation of revolution is the crux of the book. At the same time, Landauer also employs the term in a much more common manner and refers to individual events of—actual or attempted—radical social transformation as ‘revolutions.’ Kuhn also underlines the importance of this essay, calling it “one of the most important anarchist analyses of history and revolution.”

I concur with both assessments. This is a strange and wonderful essay. It is beyond the scope of this review to discuss Revolution in detail, but it needs discussion. Despite any flaws, this is an important essay and unlike anything I’ve read. Landauer’s interesting and influential ideas about utopia are expanded herein. He also expounds at length his ideas about the Christian Middle Ages. He praises alchemists, pantheists, and heretics. Landauer ends the essay by stating that we hardly know anything about the future and that the path we take “will lead via the unknown, with sudden turns, and towards buried treasure.” This essay had been a buried treasure, but now it is revealed by a skillful translator.

Shortly after writing Revolution, Landauer seemingly reengaged with radical politics. What follows in the book is a large number of shorter essays on a wide number of topics: how to create socialism, the Social Democratic Party, anti-militarism and struggle against WWI, the Haymarket martyrs, Benjamin Tucker, May Day, the Mexican Revolution, Esperanto (entitled: Do Not Learn Esperanto!), autonomous rural communities, and  so on.

The few letters included are also of great interest—they definitely paint a picture of Landauer as a complex man. Erich Mühsam, Landauer’s life-long friend, is quoted: “Shall I speak of Landauer, the man? Of the way he moved, of his personal relationships with others? Read his letters! Read them!” The one letter included to Mühsam is harshly critical of his writing. The letters also reveal a personal side not seen in his writings, including a series of short telegrams to his daughters in the waning days of the Bavarian Council Republic,  shortly before he was murdered on 

May 2, 1919.
Gabriel Kuhn has done us a favor by translating this book. The translations are excellent and the book is laid out well and easy to use. The introduction gives a lot of useful biographical information as well as an interesting discussion of Landauer’s legacy, including his influence on the kibbutz movement in the 1920s and ’30s. Here’s hoping this book leads to a revival of interest in Gustav Landauer and to more translations.

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Soccer and Radical Politics: Redcarding Capitalist Soccer

by Ron Jacobs
Counterpunch.org
April 2011

Historically, sports have always been a grassroots endeavor. Whether one is part of a local team playing an arch rival or a fan in the stands at a contest broadcast across the world, the game derives its meaning from those who play and their supporters. As anyone involved with sports knows, this meaning raises spirits and inflames passions. Most likely begun as a means for humans to get together and burn off some energy, their modern realization in all its forms continues to be an arena where passions run high and games take on a meaning well beyond their objective importance. Because of this meeting of people and passions, sports have often been manipulated for political and pecuniary ends. In today's world, both these phenomena are present internationally in the most popular sport of them all--football, often known as soccer.

This is the subject of Gabriel Kuhn's newest book, Soccer vs. the State:Tackling Football and Radical Politics. A former semi-professional soccer player, Kuhn explores sports ground currently tilled by writers like Dave Zirin. However, while Zirin critiques the entire world of professional sports, Kuhn focuses entirely on soccer. Interspersing leaflets, interviews and articles with his own contextual narrative, Kuhn presents the reader with an alternative vision of soccer from the World Cup to grassroots football clubs organized by squatters and political activists. Underlying it all is a critique of modern capitalism and its effect on the sport.

It is difficult for fans of professional sports in the United States to conceive of their favorite teams not being owned by a a group of multimillionaires or a corporation. From MLB's Yankees to the WNBA's Mystics, the reason these teams exist is to turn a profit or, alternatively, to operate as a tax write-off for the owners.  Sport itself is secondary to almost every owner. With the exception of the NFL's Green Bay Packers, who are owned by several thousand of their fans, the fan of professional sports in the United States and Canada is nothing more than a consumer whose credit cards exist for the pleasure of those who own their favorite team.

The phenomenon of multimillionaire ownership of soccer clubs is relatively new. According to Kuhn's history, many teams were founded by workers and existed within a framework that prevented corporate ownership. As the purchase of several English Premier League teams over the past few years by foreign and British corporations proves, this is no longer the case. With these changes in ownership has come a change in the way the fan is treated. To the dismay of the most devoted working class fans. fewer standing room tickets (known as the terrace) are sold. Instead, ownership is insisting on reserved seating at higher prices. This practice not only limits the fervor of the fans who previously stood on the terrace, it limits the number of those fans admitted into the stadium. To their credit, fan clubs of teams that have instituted these changes have protested the reduction in terrace tickets and have met with some success in getting more such tickets.

Like most sports, soccer is riddled with sexism, homophobia and racism. Kuhn describes several efforts by fans and players challenging these negative phenomena. From Germany's Bundnis aktiver Fussballfans (BAFF) to various players who have openly challenged the racism of other fans and players, Kuhn describes and active anti-racist culture within international soccer. He further describes various fan cultures known for their leftist and autonomist politics. Most famous of these are the fans of Hamburg's St. Pauli fussball club. The team itself is not noticeably anti-establishment. Indeed, its stadium was named after a Nazi who used slave labor to make his millions. However, during the peak of the German squatter's movement in the 1980s, the team was adopted by residents of Hamburg's Hafenstrasse squats. These fans began showing up at games with antifascist flags and banners. Eventually, the team came to be a favorite of left and autonomist soccer fans around Europe, with their away games packing stadiums with left and anarchist punks and politicos. The BAFF's fanzine exists today, although with a less political edge to it than in days past.

If you are a soccer fan, this book is a must, especially if your politics lean left. The same applies if you are just a sports fan in general. Imagine a Major League Baseball game where the bleachers are filled with fans making their opposition to anti-immigrant legislation known. Imagine a whole section of fans not standing when those warplanes fly over while the Star Spangled Banner is sung. Gabriel Kuhn, like those writers alluded to at the beginning of this review, gives the sports fan who finds the displays of nationalism and unabashed commerialism so prevalent on the playing field an alternative vision of what sports fandom could be.

Ron Jacobs is author of The Way the Wind Blew: A History of the Weather Underground and Short Order Frame Up. Jacobs' essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch's collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. His new novel is The Co-Conspirator's Tale. He can be reached at: rjacobs3625@charter.net


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OreOre awarded Oe Kenzaburô Literary Award

Translation and commentary
by Brian Bergstrom

It was announced on April 6th that Tomoyuki Hoshino’s 2010 novel OreOre (lit.: Me! Me!) was chosen to receive the 5th annual Oe Kenzaburô Literary Award!  This award is conferred to a book the Nobel Laureate deems important enough to be introduced to a larger audience not only within Japan but outside it as well, and includes guaranteed publication in English through a publisher of Oe’s choosing. 

This is a fantastic boon to Hoshino’s prominence not only within Japan but the rest of the world, and there would seem to be no one better suited to navigating the responsibilities and challenges inherent in this increased prominence.  PM Press is proud to be publishing the first translations of Hoshino’s work into English, including the novel Lonely Hearts Killer (translated by Adrienne Carey Hurley) and the upcoming collection of short stories and novellas, We, the Children of Cats (translated by Brian Bergstrom, with an additional translation by Lucy Fraser).

Indeed, on March 1, 2011, just over a month before the announcement, Hoshino addressed these issues head-on in the blog post translated below.  It’s a piece that shows how seriously Hoshino takes his position as novelist and intellectual, a testament to his integrity as a public figure dedicated to bringing to light the voices, concerns and perspectives routinely relegated to the realm of the minor in Japan and elsewhere.

This dedication can also be seen in the things he has been writing in his Twitter stream and revamped blog, selections from which have been translated into English and published on the Project East360 blog (east360.wordpress.com).

Undoubtedly, this finely tuned sense of ethics, along with an unparalleled literary imagination, that led Oe to make his choice.  Congratulations, Hoshino!

On the Trap of the Major
Tomoyuki Hoshino
original post

There’s a trap that public intellectuals – authors, scholars, pundits, journalists, and the like – often fall into once they become major figures.

Becoming a major public intellectual means that one’s words receive attention from a large amount of people and thus have a certain power of influence; in essence, such a person becomes a kind of media outlet.  And these days, if one takes advantage of digital technologies and the internet, one can quite literally become an individual and media outlet simultaneously, and when someone in that position becomes “major,” he or she likewise becomes a mass media outlet.

We live in an age when any individual, as an individual, can become a media outlet, but the situation of a major public intellectual is different than that of an average, nameless citizen.  The major public intellectual has been given a power of self-expression approximating that of a minor mass media outlet, a magnified right to free speech.  And this magnified power of self-expression can be a trap.

For many public intellectuals, the things they said at the start of their careers, when they were still nameless, carried a strong sense of coming from the minority position.  There was a sense that they bringing to their audience’s attention information, realities and forms of thought that were otherwise hidden.  It was important for them to put these things into words precisely because they were otherwise powerless.

When these people become major figures, though, they frequently speak as if still powerless, despite the sudden increase in the number of people paying attention; therein lies the trap.  The minor mentality invariably includes within it an aggressiveness borne from awareness of oneself as victimized.  Without borrowing a certain kind of violence to assert their very existence, unrecognized people speaking from minor positions will not be heard at all.  In this sense, I feel that minor discourse cannot do without this kind of aggressiveness, and that, as long as it does not become excessive, it’s indispensable.

However, what happens when public intellectuals in major positions continue speaking as if still minor, spewing words filled with the aggressiveness borne from an exaggerated sense of their own minority status?  These people already have the powers of self-expression and free speech conferred to individuals cum media outlets.  So this aggressiveness not only bears the dubious power to incite its audience, but also to suppress weaker voices as well.  But, since these people still think of themselves as minor, they assume their words cannot have the power to suppress others’ voices.  People in this position think of themselves as continuing in the same way they had when they were minor, but from the outside, it produces the impression that, “Oh, he’s changed.  He’s gotten so oppressive now that he’s ‘important.’”

There are also those who end up cut off from the minority communities from whose position they used to speak, a result of becoming incorporated into the professional world of opinion.  These people’s priorities shift to protecting their own newfound major status and expanding its reach rather than conveying to a larger audience realities and words that have gone unrecognized.  As a result, these people end up using their powers of self-expression to demonstrate their own status and shore up their “major” position. “I use words to effect change” becomes “my gaining power is the same thing as effecting change,” and all of these people’s energy goes into defending that power.  So the resulting discourse serves only these ends: advertising the speaker’s status as a major figure and propping up his or her power to speak.  In other words, it serves to betray the very things he or she once represented.

Once it has reached this point, it no longer matters how magnified a discourse’s influence becomes, it can never do anything but support the status quo.  Even if the words themselves seem minoritarian, their context is majoritarian.  This is why even in those instances when the things a person in such a position says seem unobjectionable, it seems nevertheless impossible to trust her or him.  The power of words to break apart the violence of the majority, to vivify the position of the minority, lies not only in the words themselves but also in their context and their emotional core.

Once people enter the world of professionalized opinion, they end up appearing everywhere.  And this is a sad thing.  To take the recent Tokyo marathon as an example, it is reminiscent of the feeling one gets seeing corporate-sponsored athletes who have plenty of talent and ability of their own “bellying up to the bar,” as it were.  Public intellectuals would be better served following the example of Yûki Kawauchi* [who became famous by finishing third in the marathon as the highest-ranking Japanese marathoner, despite “dropping out” of the corporate-sponsored “elite” training program and training while working a fulltime job in the public sector –translator’s note]
—March 1, 2011

*explanatory link: http://www.asahi.com/english/TKY201103010381.html

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