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Excerpt from Endgame

Reidentify As a Survivor (p. 201)

From chapter "A Culture of Occupation"

Several years ago I spoke with Luis Rodriguez, who wrote the wonderful book Always Running: La Vida Loca: Gang Days in L.A. He is a former gang member who got out through the literature of revolution. One of the things I asked him was why so many gang kids stand on street corners shooting at mirror images of themselves. If they’re so angry, I asked, why don’t they at least shoot at capitalists?

He said that part of the answer is that cops pit gang kids against each other. Another part is that the kids want to die. Of course they want to die. They are, after all, teenagers, and one of the things teenagers must do before they can become adults is die to their childhood. The child dies so the adult can be born. But no one is telling these kids that the deaths can be spiritual and metaphorical instead of physical. And so they stand on street corners, killing themselves and killing each other.

Luis also said that when he was younger he wanted to kill every CEO and cop he saw, because they were killing those he loved. But he later realized that he wasn’t so interested in killing those individual human beings as he was in killing the relationships that allow them to kill kids. That is, he wanted to break their identities as CEOs or cops, and get them instead to identify with their animal humanity.

I’ve thought about this a lot in terms of tactics for women (and men) who are threatened with rape. Now, first, I need to say that anyone in that situation can do no wrong: no one can ever complain about anything she may or may not think or say or do, nor at any attitude she may or may not assume. Having said that though, I need to say that something that has helped some women, both as they are being threatened or assaulted and then afterwards, has been to redefine the relationship they suddenly find themselves in. The first step in this redefinition is to change her perception of the relationship from one between a rapist and a victim to one between a rapist and a survivor, that is, to begin to perceive herself not as a victim with no choices (although she may recognize that her range of choices may have been at least temporarily diminished because of the circumstances she finds herself in through no fault of her own) but as someone who is going to use any available means she chooses in order to survive this encounter (or not, as she chooses). For some women this choosing to be a survivor may then lead to them submitting to the rapist’s physical demands, allowing him to have her body while her soul remains her own. This is one of the points I think Berthold Brecht was making in his fable about a man who lives alone who one day hears a knock on his door. When he answers, he sees The Tyrant outside, who asks, “Will you submit?” The man says nothing. He steps aside. The Tyrant enters his home. The man serves him for years, until The Tyrant becomes sick from food poisoning and dies. The man wraps the body, takes it outside, returns to his home, closes the door behind him, and firmly answers, “No.” For other women this may mean fighting to the death, preferably his. Still others—many others—do not consciously make the choice to move from victim to survivor in that moment of violation—they are too busy simply surviving to think about labeling themselves as survivors—but they make that choice over time, in the months, years, and decades that follow, as they metabolize what was done to them and their responses. And of course yet others choose different approaches: there are as many approaches to this question of reidentifying oneself from victim to survivor as there are potential victims, potential survivors.

The next step that at least some women pursue in this process of changing their circumstances is to attempt to get the man to no longer identify himself as a rapist, but as something else (one hopes not a murderer). An example may help clarify. One morning in the mid-1970s, my sister was reading in bed when suddenly she felt a man’s weight on her back and a knife at her throat. The man said he was going to rape her. She said, “You can do that if you’d like, but I have to tell you that my husband and I are being treated for syphilis. I don’t know if you want to risk catching it.” Our mother had always told her to keep a prescription bottle by her bedside for exactly this contingency. (And what does it say about our culture that mothers need to prepare their daughters for this possibility, or really, given the rates of rape in our culture, this likelihood?) Fortunately, the man didn’t look closely at the bottle, or he would have learned that the original prescription was several years old, for medicines designed to alleviate my sister’s migraines, and that the bottle was now full of aspirin. He told her that it wasn’t worth the risk, and that instead he wanted all of her money. She had twenty dollars in her purse and she gave him five. He left. The point is that my sister had caused the man to no longer identify himself as a rapist, but as a robber, and to act on that identification. She effectively killed the rapist. Sometimes, when men strongly identify as rapists, it is not possible to kill the rapist without killing the man. So be it.

The first part of our task, then, is to attempt to break our own identification as the civilized and remember that we are human animals living in and reliant on our landbases for survival, to begin to care more about the survival of our landbase than the perpetuation of civilization. (What a concept!) Then we must break our identification as victims of this awful and deathly system called civilization and remember that we are survivors, resolve that we will do what it takes so that we—and those we love, including nonhuman members of our landbase—will survive, outlast, outlive, defeat civilization. That we will in time dance and play and love and live and die among the plants and animals who will someday grow amidst its ruins. Once we have made that shift inside of ourselves, once we no longer see ourselves as victims of civilization but as its survivors, as those who will not let it kill us or those we love, we have freed ourselves to begin to pursue the more or less technical task of actually stopping those who are killing our landbases, killing us. One way to do that might be to get CEOs, cops, and politicians to identify themselves as human animals living in and reliant on their landbases and to break their identities as CEOs, cops, and politicians. The good news is that some few of them may listen to reason. The bad news is that history, sociology, psychology, and direct personal experience suggest that most—nearly all—will not.