ID Music: Extraordinary Laziness II
North America's Gnarliest Mix for saving the world by not working
If you’re eager to get right into ID Music 20230127 scroll down for the download link, stream, and setlist
As regular listeners to our airwaves and readers of this newsletter may have realized, there is considerable overlap between my interest in Zen, and my interest in anarchist philosophy. Or at least I hope that is apparent, as writing about these ideas is much more interesting to me than writing about the music I play on the show: Even when I was writing about music professionally, the tunes were often an excuse to consider broad cultural, spiritual, or political ideas, as opposed to sticking with straightforward evaluations of an artwork’s merits and place in an imaginary aesthetic hierarchy. To use some classically obtuse Zen language, I’m trying to write about the moon, not the finger pointing to the moon, however much I enjoy listening to the finger.
Zen and anarchism were two things that helped me avoid becoming an irritating reactionary satanist when I became disillusioned with Christianity in high school. I was a dilettante then, and in many ways remain an eternal dabbler, in part because as soon as something starts to seem important or useful, my deficient neurochemistry makes it extremely difficult to not turn my attention elsewhere. It’s a pattern of behavior that shows up throughout my lived experience, as seen in the rambling nature of this newsletter, or from a macro perspective on my resume that features as many jarring transitions as the understandably unpopular ambient/metal/Live Dead/drone/spiritual jazz/dub FM radio broadcast that serves as a framing device for these essays.
Both Zen and anarchism retained the moral and ethical guidelines that I liked about my Christian upbringing, but dropped the Old Testament puritanism that I’d been uncomfortable with since looking at illustrations of drowning humans in Sunday school picture book depictions of the Genesis flood narrative. And conveniently, both Zen and anarchism are accessible via pamphlets, dharma talks, or Crass songs that are short enough for me to finish before my attention starts to wander. The Communism and Hinduism syllabi are much more daunting. While there’s plenty of reading for students of Zen and anarchism, they’re also both, arguably, more of a way of life. As my friend Linc, the guiding teacher at the Indianapolis Zen Center, puts it, “If practice doesn't help us with our relationship with our family, with our work, if we are not generating some kind of clarity and compassion that shows up in all those things, then we're not meditating correctly."
I became more serious about Zen over the next 30 years, eventually taking up residential practice at the unexpectedly anarchic Indianapolis Zen Center in 2016. Despite the non-hierarchical approach to kitchen hygiene and refrigeration protocols for dairy products, the IZC wasn’t technically an anarchist institution, but my anarchist practice is much more of a spiritual practicethan an activist undertaking. Given the essential work that organizers and activists across the spectrum of leftist politics are engaged with, this is an important distinction. And akin to my clarification that I’m not a priest, monk, or dharma teacher. As my former housemate, occasional dharma teacher, and forever dharma brother John Melvin advised me when I started leading meditation workshops and incorporating Zen into my artwork and yoga sessions, “don’t overstate your level of non-attainment and you’ll be fine.”
There is value in the rigorous study of both disciplines, but the persistent appeal of both Zen and anarchism is, for me, in their impossible optimism and frequent reliance on simple principles. Left wing anarchisminsists that a more equitable, peaceful, and pleasurable way of life is possible, famously articulated by anthropologist and anarchist activist David Graeber in Utopia of Rules, as "the world is something we make, and could just as easily make differently." The nice thing about being a retired EMT, former magazine editor, and arts nonprofit expatriate is that I don’t have to understand how a consensus-based model of governance would work, just as I don’t need to understand how free healthcare for all would work: I know they’re the right thing to do, so given my relative lack of power I may as well be a hopeless idealist “demanding the impossible.”
At the Zen Center, we proclaimed The Four Great Vows throughout the week:
1. Sentient beings are numberless. We vow to save them all.
2. Delusions are endless. We vow to cut through them all.
3. The teachings are infinite. We vow to learn them all.
4. The Buddha Way is inconceivable. We vow to attain it.
These ancient intentions are equally as naive, and their paradoxical poetry is the very essence of Zen. But I can renew the vow to learn all of the infinite teaching even though I can’t even do more than a five-day streak on my Spanish language learning app.
These schools of thought are both at odds with the increasingly destructive conceit – propagated most vocally at the moment by Silicon Valley shit heads – that the problems of the world require complex and often counterintuitive solutions. They undermine that idea that tech will save us, and remind us that the solution to homelessness is housing, the solution to poverty is money, and the solution to hunger is food.
These broad proclamations of compassion and kindness are also nothing new. As written in the Tao Te Ching in 400 BC, and echoed by teachers of many lineages in the millennia since, “The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.” There will always be new discoveries added to the catalog of human knowledge, but there are few – if any – new ideas when it comes to human wisdom. We’re all just re-stating the same basic concepts, and anybody who claims to have exclusive, novel insights is best treated with suspicion from jump.
It is with intention that I return to the same writers and thinkers in my Zen practice – Joko Beck, Ezra Bayda, Seung Sahn, Thich Nhat Hanh, Dōgen, Lama Rod Owens, Lewis Richmond. Their teachings work for me, and I don’t need to go rooting around for a different way to pronounce the same basic ideas. My reading list when it comes to anarchism is even shorter, and so we’re back reading David Graeber for this second installment in the Extraordinary Laziness series.
If Graeber has an analogue in Zen, it’s maybe somebody like Alan Watts. Their writing is friendly and digestible to outsiders, arguably true to the core concepts of their respective schools of thought, and too often treated with contempt by gatekeeping insiders who – intentionally or not – want to make these things more complicated than they need to be. This time we’re turning our attention to a short essay that Graeber contributed to a 2020 edition of The Big Issue magazineedited by Jarvis Cocker: “To save the world, we’re going to have to stop working.”
At only 600 words, Graeber’s manifesto can be read in about the same amount of time it takes to sing along with the lyric video to Crass’ “Big A Little A,” a text as important to my armchair anarchism practice as The Heart Sutra is to my equally slop-style Zen practice. I’ve already typed out twice as many words in this essay, but for the sake of continuity I’ll cut Graeber’s piece down to his three point plan:
I. If we want to save the world, we’re going to have to stop working.
II. Stop doing “batshit construction,” i.e. empty office buildings, unoccupied houses, unused airports, etc.
III. End “planned obsolescence” by forcing manufacturers to make products that are durable, i.e. your smart phone could last for 15 years, rather than two or three.
These proposals are more like the cut and dried wisdom of Ezra Bayda – “the belief that we can’t be happy if we’re uncomfortable that is much more of a problem than the discomfort itself” – than the Four Great Vows, and they’re direct kin to the idea that the solution to homelessness is housing. The question has never been if people want durableproducts, or if the solution to homelessness is housing. The reason these solutions are ignored is because the question is “how can we solve homelessness in a way that allows the wealthy to hoard even more money.”
But this series is about Extraordinary Laziness, so stopping work is the vow that we’re focused on. All three Extraordinary Laziness programs are about resisting hustle and grind culture, disassembling the oppressive ideology that work, that producing things for the sake of production, is virtuousness in and of itself. Graeber takes this idea into places that were especially relevant to my time working for $11/hour as an EMT in his book Bullshit Jobs, where he writes about “the inverse relationship between the social value of work and the amount of money one is likely to be paid for it." But the analysis here is more radical for being less specific.
“Our society is addicted to work,” he writes for The Big Issue,
If there’s anything left and right both seem to agree on, it’s that jobs are good. Everyone should have a job. Work is our badge of moral citizenship. We seem to have convinced ourselves as a society that anyone who isn’t working harder than they would like to be working, at something they don’t enjoy, is a bad, unworthy person. As a result, work comes to absorb ever greater proportions of our energy and time…
… we’re constantly encouraged to look at social problems as if they were questions of personal morality. All this work, all the carbon we’re pouring into the atmosphere, must somehow be the result of our consumerism; therefore to stop eating meat or dream of flying off to beach vacations. But this is just wrong. It’s not our pleasures that are destroying the world. It’s our puritanism, our feeling that we have to suffer in order to deserve those pleasures. If we want to save the world, we’re going to have to stop working.
This is an expressly anti-entrepreneurialconcept that defies the seemingly ubiquitous pressure to always be producing, looking for opportunities to make money, and to stay busy for the sake of busyness. This is the “ordinary laziness” that Alan Watts was talking about on the first Extraordinary Laziness episode. Stopping work “would lend our culture the pleasant mellowness which it singularly lacks.” It’s a simple but radical idea – like “money solves poverty,” “art should be free,” or “try to be a little more kind” – that I’m comfortable standing behind as an artist, writer, and unemployed yoga teacher if only because the dominant voices of the ruling capitalist death cult are so much louder.
It’s not just that a better world is possible: The path to this better world leads through a land of jubilee and celebration. We don’t have to keep working at jobs we hate to perpetuate a system that makes our lives more difficult, and requires us to spend our lives workingat meaningless jobs that we hate. As both Zen and anarchism tell us over and over, you don’t have to fuck people over to survive. Making the world differently means spending more time with our friends and family, pursuing our own interests, improving our communities, goofing around, plus affordable and indestructible phones.
Maybe for you it also means reading 2400 word essays tangentially related to an understandably unpopular, yet surprisingly long-running and widely-distributed community radio program blend of heavy mellow, kosmische slop, and void contemplation tactics. If that’s the case – or even if it’s not – I’m grateful for the opportunity to spend my time producing such unmarketable artifacts, and for a reason to question why I feel the need to think of this hopefully generous act of communication and connection to be “work.”
Thank you as always for reading these words carefully, skimming through on a speed-read, jumping straight to the show streams and links, subscribing for money, lurking for free, sharing with friends, or unsubscribing if for some reason Void Contemplation Tactics doesn’t feel like a good fit for your inbox.
blessing up + blessing down,
If you know anyone who might find value or otherwise enjoy some aspect of Void Contemplation Tactics or Inter-Dimensional Music, please pass it along. It means a lot to me!
My reach is limited on social media, which I’m increasingly convinced is a good thing. As Dōgen's teacher told him, “You don't have to collect many people like clouds. Having many fake practitioners is inferior to having a few genuine practitioners. Choose a small number of true persons of the way and become friends with them.”
Inter-Dimensional Music 20230127
North America's Gnarliest Mix for saving the world by not working
For this week's practice, we continue with our series on the virtues of laziness. US lawmakers attempting to raise the retirement age while life expectancy is declining due to intentionally negligent epidemiological responses to a pandemic that resulted in people working while sick tells you everything you need to know. We'll hear a counterpoint from anthropologist and anarchist activist David Graeber: "To save the world, we’re going to have to stop working."
Our soundtrack includes a hypnotic deconstruction of traditional ethnomusicological recordings from Lebanon, heavily rhythmic documentation of imaginary fertility rituals, and a crepuscular take on "experimental funk" from the Miles Davis Septet's mythical 1973 Tokyo run.
Today's session begins, and will come to an end, with excerpts from Does Spring Hide Its Joy, Kali Malone's immersive drone for electric guitar, cello, and tuned sine wave oscillators.
artist – work
Kali Malone (featuring Stephen O'Malley & Lucy Raiton) – Does Spring Hide Its Joy v2.1
Raed Yassin – Imama of Dusk
Odd Person – The K'holori Tal'a' and Her Snakes
Al Cisneros – Yerushalayim
Clams Casino – Bass
Miles Davis – Zimbabwe (Live 1973/06/19, Tokyo – SYF edit)
Kali Malone (featuring Stephen O'Malley & Lucy Raiton) – Does Spring Hide Its Joy v3 (edit)
🏴 David Graeber – We’re Going to Have to Stop Working
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In the style of German anarchist Gustav Landauer, poet Gary Snyder, and polymath Ursula K. Le Guin. Not in the style of the anarchist writer and notoriously outspoken self-described pedophile Peter Lambhorn Wilson aka Hakim Bey. Gross.
As contrasted with the obnoxious “anarcho-capitalists” of the crypto sphere, profiled in all of their idiotic glory in HBO’s terrible The Anarchists docu-series. Anarcho-capitalist is an oxymoron, as capitalism is inherently anti-egalitarian and intrinsically hierarchical. These people are just boring right wing libertarians.
In the interest of entirely meaningless full disclosure, I was good buds with a couple of extremely crusty forest dwelling Big Issue vendors when I lived in Canterbury, England. In the late ‘90s when the Big Issue launched in Los Angeles, I wrote hip-hop reviews for them.
When considering the third proposal, I think about living in Marfa where the Dollar General was the only place to get things like Band-Aids or cat litter boxes, and how the cheap off-brand bandages I bought there didn’t work due to inadequate adhesive, and how two of the three litter boxes on the shelf were already broken. It’s one thing to charge more for decorative Spider Man bandages, but selling knowingly faulty first aid supplies to poor people is class war.
Reading about the Artificial Intelligence project where you can debate racism with famous racists from history such as Henry Ford or – if you’re willing to pay for the privilege – Adolf Hitler, I am once again reminded that starting businesses for the sake of starting businesses is bad. The person who made the "debate both sides of anti-semitism with famous historical racists AI" started something, you know what I mean? As Dōgen wrote way back when,"Even if unwholesome action fills worlds upon worlds, and swallows up all things, refrain from is emancipation."
The ongoing hype cycle about AI is another demonstration of how the tech industry is often just another face of capitalist exploitation and the production of meaningless products for the sake of wealth hoarding. The promise of technology was once assumed to be that it would eliminate the need for humans to waste their lives at mundane jobs so we could instead focus on specifically human tasks like caring for our communities, creating art and culture, or just being still. The reality is that the tech industry is driving AI to create art and culture, so that humans can waste more of their lives doing mundane jobs and creating wealth for the oligarchy.
I love this framing of Zen as a crucial and transformative tool in the fight against injustice. I've seen slightly too many think pieces lately agitating for an "anti-woke" Zen which I find baffling. This is a very refreshing rebuttal. (I'm sure the mix is great too, will give it a listen ASAP!).
Great mix too. Really need to pick up that Kali Malone record.