The truth ignored, misunderstood, or intentionally hidden by the Left and Right wings of capital alike is that repression is not solely, or even predominantly, a political phenomenon. The political manifestations of state repression are a kind of superstructure that is built on a bedrock of constant and diffuse repression that marks our whole lives and has metabolized in our bodies and our psyches. In fact, we could not even bring ourselves to submit to the paralyzing terror of a grand jury or any other of the more extreme tools of repression were it not for the thousand little humiliations that make up daily life in this society. The very sophisticated lesson learned by power in its struggle with generations of rebellious bodies is that the ground of our being must be rendered fertile for this kind of domination. This is done by subtle degrees, by normalizing domination in our ordinary acts and institutions of life. Then, when the inevitable excesses of the “police state” (a redundancy in terms) rear their head, we see not only liberals but radical leftists of most stripes beg for a return to this normalcy, to business as usual. This is the one-two punch of repression and recuperation. This is how they work in tandem. This is how good intentions pave the road to hell.
That road is long and old. If we’re really concerned about eradicating domination, exploitation, and alienation, we have to understand they, along with the repression required for us to swallow them, are far older than the capitalism we recognize from the tracts of socialists, communists and classical anarchists, older even than the state as we know it. The bedrock of repression is not political, it is social, it is ecological, and it uses the biological needs of our own bodies against us, wedding the very fulfillment of those needs to its agenda.
Repression of our animal selves arguably started at least as far back as when agriculture became the sole basis for society, humans became sedentary, surpluses of food were stored and certain kinds of knowledge guarded jealously for the first time by new strata of specialists, namely, when class society itself was inaugurated, and with it, a war between freedom and servitude that has continued from that time till this.
We’re talking about a hundred centuries of a struggle as old as the appearance of the first patriarch, the first fence erected to keep out the wild, the first campaign to dehumanize some foreign enemy. It is reiterated in every bashing of someone who uses their body as they please, or refuses to use their body as prescribed. In fact, this ever-growing monster, this ever-deepening desert, is the cesspool from which springs every system of oppression, every bigotry that we are accustomed to hearing and talking about in their reduced, specific dimensions.
This all runs contrary to the narrative of progress. In the Middle Ages, alienation and repression were accelerated incredibly by the subordination of the passions to reason, the mind/body split agreed upon and imposed by religion, science and civil society alike. In school, where we learned about it in the most boring way possible if we learned about it at all, that time was called the Dark Ages, a drab and motionless time from which progress supposedly delivered us. But what they didn’t tell us was that the new regime of repression called the Enlightenment triggered waves of upheaval across Europe and the “New World” so massive that we can scarcely imagine from our current, extremely degraded social vantage point their scope and significance. It gave rise to a culture of resistance so rich and so beautiful that it took the burning and breaking of millions of heretic and witch bodies to reorder the world.
The first instance of clock time being forced upon human beings in order to synchronize their activity for the sake of productivity or war foreshadowed the most dramatic change since agriculture: the birth of industry. The true story hidden underneath one of the most massive cover-ups in history is this: the mechanical discipline required to make the new capitalist work machine go was resisted fiercely everywhere it was introduced. Arson, riots, and murder were the toll exacted on the bosses, the architects of a new world order for attempting to make proud and crafty people into dull workers and automatons, but vagabondage, drunkenness, a grueling, poison work week, and the first prisons were the price the rebels paid for defeat. It is well-documented but not well-known that factories, contrary to the contemporary popular conception of them, were not the natural result of human ingenuity and curiosity, not the spontaneous outgrowth of some innate will to dominate or the inevitable outcome of the forward march of time, but were introduced by the new ruling classes as a deliberate, targeted means of social control and conditioning for a population still too recalcitrant, too unruly, too free to be subjects even after all the abuses and losses of centuries. Concurrent with their defeat was the rise of both political parties and labor unions, the original recuperators of the modern era, a pale and deranged caricature of the threat that once menaced capital and the state.
So despite the words of the recuperators of our own day, this war isn’t about replacing who is in office, it isn’t about recycling or riding your bike or shopping at a co-op.
Repression IS being under fluorescent lights. Its swiping barcodes to get the things we need. Its waiting in line. Its the proliferation of security cameras and every other technology of control, but its also having our genitals mutilated at birth by a doctor. Its being corralled and herded into classrooms for our whole lives with 20-30 kids our same exact age, all being broken to the authority of the teacher, being filtered and categorized for our future positions as gears in a machine. Its being shamed for masturbation, sex, or your gender presentation. Its looking out your window to see a gridwork of pavement smothering the ground, yoking your consciousness to the tyranny of right angle after right angle. Its having a window between you and your world at all. Its getting your food from a market instead of gathering or hunting it. Repression is feeling like we have to hide our bodies from one another with clothing. Its the nagging feeling of not knowing how to respond to the latest unwelcome gesture or joke by the half-conscious moron at our side. It’s staring at your phone while you pretend to listen. Repression is feeling scared to express your affections honestly because someone who loves you will lose their shit. Repression is living in isolated nuclear families. It’s the cop in your head. It is private property AND it is artificially-imposed collectivity. It is the dominant culture’s toxic mimicry of individuality AND of communism.
It is all of these tiny humiliations foisted upon us since before our births, so pervasive and routine that they don’t even feel like humiliation to us, that condition us to accept the grander, more frightening instances of political repression. If we are accustomed to not only eating shit but also asking for seconds day in and day out, we’re not very likely to think its our place to refuse acquiescence to a grand jury, a judge, a riot squad or the national guard, and especially not with Officer Smiley as their counterpart. Imagine how safe and secure are the profit margins, the warships, the logging equipment, the rapists and the vivisectors while we are coddled by a consensus reality patched together for us democratically by politically correct puritans, cop-calling pacifists, bio-political technicians that pass for radicals, and emotionally stunted but-oh-so accountable anarchists like ourselves.
Consider that while the institutions of modern society stand, so too does repression. If there is a cop shop down the street from you, a locked building called a “store” where they keep food hostage and make you pay ransom for it, if there’s money at all, if there are borders arbitrarily gashed across the face of the earth, if there are separate spheres of life that can be distinguished from each other enough to be named “school,” “work,” “home,” “leisure-time,” “the park,” “wilderness,” than we don’t know the freedom that all wild things know, which our ancestors knew, and which we, in our best moments, know.