Re: The Greatest Love Of All

A Conversation with Dan Fishback

@musicisfreenow: Not feeling bad about yourself is a revolutionary act

@dangerfishback: @musicisfreenow keep lowering the bar for revolution and we’ll never have a real one!

@musicisfreenow: @dangerfishback that’s the exact misconception. We all create this oppressive society by hating ourselves and then one another.

@musicisfreenow: @dangerfishback Facism, racism, homophobia, xenophobia are all fed by self hatred.

@dangerfishback: @musicisfreenow this is too complicated for twitter. i’m responding on my blog: www.danfishback.com


Cesar my friend,

I am profoundly irritated by the notion that facists, racists, homophobes (etc) are all just “feeling bad about themselves.” It creates a false equivalence between the oppressor and the oppressed, casting them all as victims. In truth, while a queer woman whose life is defined by harassment might “hate herself,” the heterosexist who tortures her probably doesn’t even fully understand what a human being is – at least not in any kind of holistic, spiritual, radical way.

I think dominant culture oppressors are moved, not by self-hatred, but by self-obliviousness, and an obliviousness to the true nature of humanity in general.

Moreover, I think all this focus on the self is really counter-productive, since truly revolutionary action and thought can probably only stem from realization of the interconnectedness of humanity. Not the love of self, but the explosion of the boundaries of the self. A redefining of the self to include the entire world. Which is why “not feeling bad about yourself,” when applied to the individual self, has nothing to do with revolution at all.

In fact, I think one of the most important revolutions that could possibly happen — the restructuring of society to make our lives sustainable and eliminate the mass importation and exportation of resources — is only possible if we GIVE UP being self-involved and self-entitled. That revolution will only happen if we make profound sacrifices on behalf of people who haven’t been born yet.

The reason why these kinds of revolutions don’t happen is precisely because we love ourselves too much, to the exclusion of the outside world.

I understand the spirit of your statement — that the key to changing the world may lie in the hearts of those who are destroying it — but I think your analysis, while attractive (Who doesn’t want to feel revolutionary just by liking themselves?), is too easy.

Love & Respect,


Dear Dan,

Thanks for your response. I still have to disagree.

Growing up in a family of leftist organizers I got taught a pseudo-marxist ideology early on that humans are fundamentally good and because of that when they are cared for and provided with opportunity they become their fundamentally good selves. Over my life I started to doubt that more and more. As I became present to the atrocities, hatred, violence and oppression that takes place every day in our world I arrived at the idea that humans might be fundamentally corrupt.

I've changed my mind now though. Mostly through my own recent exploration of personal distress I've started to feel that oppressive behaviors and structures in society are a response to personal trauma on a mass scale. I believe that violence and oppression on the part of the oppressor is always connected and stemming from the violence that they themselves experienced from living and growing in a society which enacted that oppression on them. People aren't born homophobic they are taught to be homophobic by others who have been taught that. We are programmed with fear from the beginning and the pain and distress of that programming inevitably comes out as illogical (and often oppressive) action.

"Not feeling bad about yourself" isn't about being "self-involved" (in fact self-involved people feel the worst about themselves). It is about unlearning hatred and healing the pain inflicted by a violent and oppressive world. This unlearning allows you to escape the cycle of re-inflicting trauma on others and perpetuating oppression. Part of the reason it is so hard not to dislike yourself is that we are all taught that self-confidence and self-love is "arrogance" "self-involvement" and "self-centeredness" when actually those things are all modes of insecurity caused by distress.

Having grown up for thirty years watching my nearest and dearest re-articulate what revolution is, I now believe that revolution is has to include personal re-emergence from trauma. Just like it has to include culture, policy, and social justice.

This isn't just about racists and homophobes not hating themselves, it is about all people healing and unlearning the self hatred taught to them by a society that handed them that. Everyone is hurt by hatred.

I didn't say "not feeling bad about yourself is revolution." I said it is a revolutionary act. And a revolution is one made of millions of acts. Healing from emotional and psychological wounds, and learning to value yourself fundamentally, is absolutely one of those acts.

With love and respect,


1 comment:

Annie said...

Cesar my dear friend,

What a great blog. I'll be in NYC for the holidays, working but would love to grab you for a beer and hear all about the MusicIsFreeNow project. I'm sort of baffled by the concept even having read a few of your entries, but deeply intrigued. So if you would please dumb it down a bit for me over a cocktail I would be deeply appreciative : )

Now on to this fascinating exchange between you and Mr. Fish. I have to somewhat agree.

Growing up in a family of rightist disorganizers I got taught a pseudo-Hayekian ideology early on that people are enlightened enough that when left to pursue their own self-interests they will, on balance, generate more good than if they are less free to do so.

As I became present to the atrocities, hatred, violence, oppression, and outcomes of various apparently free elections around the world, I started to doubt that more and more. Life can be a nightmare through no fault of our own and some days it feels like we're all either tyrants or slaves.

I've changed my mind now though. Mostly through my own traumas, I've started to see oppressive behaviors and structures as efforts, large and small, to hijack people's agency to define and pursue their own interests, relieving them of both the rights and responsibilities of freedom. This tendency can stem from the thug's assumption that he has a greater right to pursue his interests than everyone else, to the grand-planning social engineer's belief that most people are too stupid to know what their interests really involve, to, in most cases, some combination of both fallacies. In all instances but to varying degrees oppression requires what I'd consider to be an overdeveloped sense of self-esteem; Hitler, Stalin and the bigoted ass three barstools down all thought they knew what the rest of us should be doing and figured they were doing the world a giant f-cking favor by dicking us into line. Helpful, though not always necessary, are oppressees who feel worthless enough to let them.

Simply "not feeling bad about yourself" is entirely different, as you note. It certainly isn't self-involved -- it's an absence of a feeling, I shouldn't think it's much-of-anything involved.

Most people are basically good, but externalities do trouble and even traumatize. The challenge of goodness is not what we are but what we do; I believe we can become better or worse over time. All of us sometimes make bad choices that hurt ourselves and others. As long as we could have done otherwise, feeling bad about that, and even suffering material consequences, is perfectly reasonable, as you allow. It's also instructive for the next time, and better enlightens our pursuit of self-interest, so unlearning it seems reckless. Nor would I want to try and engineer a world where someone else makes the choices and then decides who gets the hits and rewards.

But I would love to, er, "deprogram" the contemporary Western mindset from its auto-cycle of inadequacy-dependence-oppression; from the setting that surrenders the burdens of liberty and comforts dictators petty and large. The threat of inappropriately low self-esteem is that it invites (or elects) oppression, on the belief that we're not good enough to own ourselves. Rejecting that belief and reasserting ownership of and accountability for ourselves is absolutely a revolutionary act.

With big love and many hugs and huge respect,

"Our faith in freedom does not rest on the foreseeable results in particular circumstances but on the belief that it will, on balance, release more forces for the good than for the bad."
— Friedrich August von Hayek