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Saturday, May 7, 2011

Last Time In the City



Saturday was probably my last time at Red Emma's in a long while. I thought I'd go down there since I'm leaving Maryland on Friday morning and may not be back again until January of next year (assuming my study abroad plans will work out).

I remember the last time I went down there on a Saturday, which was months ago:

I came to Red Emma's to get books for one of my philosophy papers. I picked out Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit and a few others that I thought would come in handy. Once I had all the books I needed and a coffee, I sat down beside a young boyfriend and girlfriend. I drew up a conversation where I asked them how they were doing and if they were from "around here". I told them I was a student at McDaniel College up in Westminster studying philosophy, and I came to Red Emma's to get books for my papers.

The girlfriend responded, "Westminster? I feel sorry for you."

"Yeah," I said, "it is pretty boring."

She went on to tell me how she grew up in Westminster and how she hates the fact that Carroll County is so socially conservative. She said she hated it so much she didn't even apply to McDaniel when it came time for her to go to college. Instead, she ended up going to UMD where she majored in Spanish and now uses her degree to teach the language to middle schoolers in Baltimore City. She looked over at the books I had in my pile and asked me what they were. I told her once again that they were philosophy books that I needed for school. She asked me what Hegel's book was about. I tried to give her a really, really oversimplified answer where I explained that it's about how human consciousness progresses and how there's always a struggle between two forces and the state of mind moves according to which force wins and this is also the case with history and shit. She didn't get it.

She went back to her boyfriend, who was on his laptop. She reached over to the bookshelf behind them and pulled out a book by Alain Badiou.

"What happened in Paris in May of '68?" she asked with her nose buried in the book. I don't recall her boyfriend answering her.

I had to laugh to myself. What made it funnier was, she looked like a typical hipster (like the kind you see around Charles Village) who would know that.

"Look," she said to me, pointing to the book, "it's your guy - Hegel."

I was thinking: honey, something tells me your boyfriend was the one who wanted to come here, and he pretty much dragged you along.

When they left the shop, the girlfriend said to me, "Good luck in Westminster!" with a semi-sarcastic tone. I don't remember if I rolled my eyes or not. Then again, I feel that if I had grown up in Carroll County I would feel the same way.

But that whole story is beside the point.


Anyway, when I got there I spent a lot of time in the philosophy section. I picked out some situationist texts (since I'm thinking about using those for school later on), the new P.J. Proudhon anthology (some of which was translated by my facebook/blogger friend Shawn P. Wilbur), an anthology of Nietzsche's selected works, Tolstoy's The Kingdom of God is In You, and Cornelius Castoriadis' The Imaginary Institution of Society.

I sat down at a table near the windows with my books and iced coffee. I heard two people over at the counter talking about activism and politics. One of them was an activist who said he was from Austin, TX. The other was a Baltimore local. The activist talked about his time working with both marxist (Bolshevik) groups and anarchist collectives. He drew quite a distinction between the two; the marxist groups were all about getting their members into positions of power so they would control the state (which seemed to be their primary goal). When he was working with anarchist collectives on the other hand, he said he felt nothing but the feelings of solidarity and love from his comrades. Real solidarity is horizontal, never top-down.

I didn't catch much of what they said immediately after that, since I was too consumed in the books I had in front of me. But when I overheard their conversation once again they were discussing President Obama. The Baltimore local was telling the Austin activist how he read Obama's Dreams From My Father and how the book contained all this stuff about how he was very much influenced by marxism (the rumors are true), postmodernism, postcolonialism (he studied Frantz Fanon), and his activism in the anti-apartheid movement when he was younger. As soon as Obama got involved in the political system, all of that "radicalism" from his youth went to hell (this is the reality of the power structure; we will never have a politician who serves anything but the interests of those on top of the hierarchy). Now, I had no idea if this person was criticizing the president for betraying his values or if he was convincing the activist that Obama really is a good guy and people just need to pressure him more. Either way, I don't see any value in pressuring your oppressors to give you more goodies. All this talk of "democratizing" the state is only going to remain talk. Give anyone that amount of power over others and they will never let it go, not ever. We should do whatever we can to muzzle the state as opposed to "using" it and then take action into our own hands, since anything else will just be useless.

On a related note, sometimes I wonder if those in power realize that their power is not legitimate. That would explain why you have all of these attempts by the state to legitimize itself in the minds of people, like the image it gives as a "defender" of rights. I'm not really down with the whole "reschooling"/"deschooling" strategy that a lot of comrades like to push, but I do think that people need to have a change of mindset when it comes to the role of the state in our lives.

I left Red Emma's to go to Mount Vernon Square. It was a beautiful day out and I didn't want to stay inside for the remainder of my time in the city. I sat down at a park bench with the outdoor festival going on a few yards away. Afterward, I had dinner at an Arab restaurant down the street. I'm going to miss this city.

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