To lose fear of sacrifice and death can allow one to think more clearly and be a better servant of the people

dead already

I recently made a post where I wrote, “I think we need [methods] to get people to rise up to become the bravest and most disciplined versions of themselves, in a way that doesn’t compromise their intellect but actually grants things that the intellect has sought but not found through any other avenue and thereby cleans, nourishes, and strengthens the intellect.”

I think one thing—and possibly one of the most important things—that will strengthen and purify the intellect in this way is the removal of fear: fear of sacrifice, and fear of death.

Because fear blocks you from considering certain things:

Immediately, it blocks you from considering the viability and validity of courses of action that may lead you to risk sacrifice or death.

But maybe even more importantly, it also blocks you from considering certain more general possibilities or theories that, if they were true, would lead you to feel it was necessary to risk sacrifice or death (e.g., accepting the validity of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism entails accepting the truth that protracted armed revolution is necessary for the liberation of humanity).

I could be way off base, but I think the way this works is mostly that the subconscious often “goes on ahead” and scouts things out, tentatively investigating the logical conclusions of theories and courses of action, and if those conclusions look scary after a quick investigation, we become emotionally disinclined toward consciously exploring that theory, either angry or afraid of it. And in this process our subconscious only more rarely investigates and tells us about the possible fruitfulness of accepting and embracing these theories and courses of action.

And I mean this in a deep and philosophical sense. We already know that in the bourgeoisie, their fear of sacrifice is part of what causes them to miss important basic aspects of human psychology and therefore to fail to understand the fundamental laws of motion of human society and history. I think that to the extent that communists also fear sacrifice and death, it prevents us from observing and understanding deeper aspects of those same laws. But we must grasp them as deeply as we can, because without that we have nothing.

Mao wrote, “Dialectical materialism is in the service of the proletariat.” And so if something leads us to a more true grasp of the material facts, it serves the people.

And so then the question is about what will allow one to reduce one’s fear of sacrifice and death. Ultimately I think it entails living in a way that has truly incorporated the facts that:

(a) You have deep motivations that are often in contradiction with more shallow and immediate cravings, and you will live the life you are most deeply satisfied with by living as completely as possible within those deeper motivations and basically ignoring the more shallow and immediate cravings.

(b) Your well-being is bound up in how well the broad masses of people are doing, so in a very real sense the broad masses of people are you (that is, materially, your “self” really does include them). Put another way, you get the same results caring for the broad masses as you seek when you care for your own body and mind, so in this full material way, they are part of your self.

And these are really two aspects of the same thing, because those deepest motivations are best met by wielding one’s creative labor in a way that serves the people.

(Edit: Let it also be said that you are going to die one day no matter what you do. You could die today. When you confront yourself with this knowledge regularly and force yourself to look directly at it, the question of “How do I want to live my life? Who do I want to serve?” becomes a much more real and meaningful question than “How can I avoid death and loss?” because that question is literally and truly nonsensical.)

If you live within this knowledge, you will be in a mindset that fears sacrifice and death the least, because you will be in a state of minimized concern for your short-term pleasures and your own immediate physical body.

You may object that you can’t well have those deep motivations met if you’re dead, but can’t meet them at all ever if you never let your fear of sacrifice and death slip from you. And the iron truth is, no amount of fear will prevent you from dying one day one way or another, so the question is how you want to live the life you do have.

And I don’t want to pose as someone who has definitively mastered these fears, at all. But this is without a doubt the truth, however scary, and something we as communists should move toward and embrace enthusiastically.

Mao says it again and again:

“I agree with this slogan, ‘First do not fear hardship, second do not fear death.’”

“Give full play to our style of fighting—courage in battle, no fear of sacrifice, no fear of fatigue,”

“Be resolute, fear no sacrifice.”

Or Gonzalo:

“Fear? I believe that fear and lack of fear form a contradiction. The point is to take up our ideology, and unleash the courage within us. It is our ideology that makes us brave, that gives us courage. In my opinion, no one is born brave. It is society, the class struggle, that makes people and communists courageous—the class struggle, the proletariat, the Party, and our ideology. What could the greatest fear be? Death? As a materialist I know that life will end some day. What is most important to me is to be an optimist, with the conviction that others will continue the work to which I am committed, and will carry it forward until they reach our final goal, communism. Because the fear that I could have is that no one would carry on, but that fear disappears when one has faith in the masses. I think that the worst fear, in the end, is not to have faith in the masses, to believe that you’re indispensable, the center of the world. I think that’s the worst fear and if you are forged by the Party, in proletarian ideology, in Maoism principally, you understand that the masses are the makers of history, that the Party makes revolution, that the advance of history is certain, that revolution is the main trend, and then your fear vanishes. What remains is the satisfaction of contributing together with others to laying the foundation so that some day communism may shine and illuminate the entire earth.”

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Some thoughts on *Boyhood*, “following your dreams,” intimacy, and geometry

i once pointed out to someone that the question of how many limbs evolution can give a creature is bounded by geometry. a (for the sake of the argument) spherical creature with an infinite number of limbs has no limbs—there is so little space between them that it’s back to being a sphere. the amount of limbs on a creature determines the limits of the axes through which each limb can rotate and—and i’m no mathematician, so maybe this amounts to the same—the region of space to which each limb can reach (because the more other limbs there are, the more other limbs will be in the way).

a few nights ago i watched Boyhood, and while others have gone into problems like its default whiteness and so on, another of the more pernicious aspects i found in it is the way it promotes this bourgeois notion of “following your dreams.”

sure, it problematizes this a little bit with the way the mom character has that quick breakdown moment and expresses dissatisfaction with the trajectory of her life and her apparently successful career, but ultimately the film doesn’t dwell on it long enough for you to know whether this dissatisfaction is fundamentally because of the hollowness of “following your dreams” (and this idea is undermined from the start anyway, because her stated motivation for going back to college to pursue this career is for more financial stability, so it leaves open the question of whether this was even actually her dream).

but like the whole thing ends on this really optimistic note of the protagonist going to college, unbelievably full of potential, shimmeringly iridescently full of potential. he is following what he loves, which incidentally is his gift, which incidentally is financially opening doors for him in life. it’s a lot like the fairy tale of the romantic One True Love: that you have a Calling that is going to make you holy and beautiful and loveable and an honorable fixture of history in the textbooks and if only you dare to reject social norms hard enough, you will get it.

i won’t lie, i was such a sucker for this idea (or one very similar to it) for so long. it was always particularly beautiful to me, and it still has an enticing power. but you see how it removes politics from the question. it’s strictly metaphysical, which is just fine if you’re firmly located in the u.s. middle class, because then the world really does look to you like achieving A Life Worth Living is just a question of willing your art-dream into reality long and hard enough. it is a way of enticing people into a pursuit that is fundamentally congruous with capitalism (“make your art from a pure enough place in your heart and you will find financial success without having to compromise your vision one inch,” it argues to young people, regardless of the fact that that is never the real outcome) and fundamentally threatened by class struggle (because you might be told that society cannot afford to grant you the material resources and free time to fine-tune every aspect of your lifestyle according to your metaphysically derived sense of style, because it needs those resources to feed starving people and otherwise transform society). and what a monstrous society it is that constrains these purest-dreaming dreamers.

and what is particularly brutal is something one of my comrades pointed out: part of the official story is also that your success in finding, honoring, embodying, and enacting this Special Gift in yourself is a prerequisite for other people even wanting you around, whether platonically or romantically.

so in a society where we are all already (a) emotionally starving for want of intimacy-calories generally; (b) emotionally malnourished of specific emotional vitamins because society especially disallows the sharing of certain particular aspects of each individual’s inner life; and (c) emotionally poisoned because we are forced to pretend to feel so many things that are completely untrue for us emotionally … in such a society, the dangling of this carrot that you can simultaneously (a) be true to yourself and (b) (whether you understand it in these terms or not) find nourishing and healthy intimacy as part of the process and then also (c) be nothing but praised by all of society from top to bottom, appreciated like Shakespeare by both bourgeoisie and proletariat alike—it’s so irresistible that i was afraid to open up the box of my nostalgia while watching that movie. i had to hang “petty-bourgeois dreams are hollow and poisonous” like a huge sign over my mind as a precaution as i explored all the feelings the film reminded me of about what i used to want and dream about.

and it got me thinking like, well if the fairytale premise of all of this is not true, if there’s no solid and unbroken soul with pure ore of Special Gift that goes infinitely far inward, what is the material reality behind what society promises young petit-bourgeois individuals they will get to do? and what is it that we actually want, when we desire intimacy? because it is speaking to a real felt need. but also, obviously, there is neither a solid core to your mind nor is there some Totally New Essence magically united with your physical matter at the moment of conception that guarantees each individual’s idiosyncrasy.

it occurred to me as i was close to sleep last night that the answer to this question is also a question of geometry. we interface with lots of people, and our specific relation to production requires certain aspects of ourselves to make relatively temporary and superficial contacts with all these people. and so then we make these particular aspects of ourselves sort of bland and clean so that they can interface easily with many different types of people in many different places in society.

so, first, instead of having a core, you are like an onion, and you just have a deepest layer—a thought-pattern that is conscious of (that is, it contains reliable representations of) all “above” thought-patterns, but which is itself not consistently represented in any “deeper” thought-pattern. (you can try to share intimacy about some inchoate semi-patterns you may notice that lie beneath that lowest layer, too, by “free-writing” and hoping a pattern is revealed in the process, but really, the further down you go, the brokener and gooier it gets, the less discrete any thought gets, so the idea of “personality” existing that far down doesn’t make sense, because thoughts at that depth are so impersistent and changeable.)

and second, it’s not that you have a pure soul that you’re born with and you only show a few people, but rather that, inevitably, you will have some thoughts/thought-patterns/parts of yourself that you show many people (your “face”), and then you will have “inner”-er thoughts/thought-patterns/parts of yourself that manage those more clean & bland “outer” thoughts/thought-patterns/parts of yourself. and those close to you, your friends and family and romantic/sexual partners, will get to see the inner you who can’t help but develop more idiosyncratic thoughts about what it’s like to undertake the task of hiddenly and secretly managing your “face.”

that is, instead of a Totally New Essence buried in your soul, there are instead thought-patterns inside of you that, inevitably, statistically, by nature of what it is to exist within a society, you will show fewer people, and in fact *can* show fewer people, because they will be things harder to see because in order to see them, a person has to have shared similar experiences to you in society—and from a materialist perspective that means they have to have occupied similar spots to you in relations of production and reproduction, and have had similar cultural experiences. even if suddenly all your previously innermost thoughts became known by the world and they loved you for them, you would develop new innermost thoughts about what it’s become like to manage your outer thought-patterns, your “face,” in this strange new world where everyone knew what were until recently your deepest secrets.

it doesn’t mean it isn’t valuable and necessary to have intimacy or self-expression; it just means intimacy and artistic expression aren’t what they’re made out to be by bourgeois society—interactions with and expressions of a Unique Soul. this is critical, too, because among other things it means (a) the broad masses of people can learn the skills of what bourgeois society wants to say are unreplicable Geniuses; (b) the idea of a One True Love is shown to be an absurdity and so, therefore, is the bourgeois idea of the family; (c) you can maybe talk saps like the one i used to be (and the one i still have banging around inside of me) out of thinking that they have some Perfectly Rare Beauty that they owe it to themselves to express in depoliticized art, the rest of the world be damned; and (d) if you are struggling to find intimacy, well, your inner self is in motion—you can change your inner self into one that will make it more likely to mesh with others’ inner selves. you do not have to believe yourself barred from the connection you are starving for on the mistaken idea that maybe you were just born with a particularly rare Soul.