Thomas Gaflan

Alcoholism as Anti-Imperial Work Stoppage


ISSUE 63 | STRIKE | APR 2016

A white man in the heart of the empire, you say! Recipient of the labor of many nations! It must be very enjoyable, you say! Yes, I say, sometimes it is. It’s enjoyable, I say, when I drink.

The alcoholic is derogated as a woman. The alcoholic is unable to control their impulses. The alcoholic is not allowed to speak their untrustworthy words, not allowed to work, not allowed to dominate. The alcoholic must spend most of their time carefully negotiating structures that they do not care for in order to serve the needs of their body. The alcoholic’s pleasure comes from what is generally accepted as perverse and not moral or just.

This is how the empire treats some people all the time. Once I was in a tavern and I got a microwave pizza (a lot of bars are legally required to serve food, and so they serve the absolute minimum) and I was salivating uncontrollably and hiccupping and a guy in a dress shirt leaned over from behind me and said, “you should be fucking ashamed of yourself. You’ve got no respect for yourself or anybody else.” It was the first time I’d ever been addressed in the words that white men use for black teenagers.

I am just a juvenile alcoholic, and I’m just a juvenile in the halls of power. When I realized what I had been given – the university assignments that took me minutes on the hour, the effortless SATs, the structures that repeatedly, almost magically, conspired to make my natural action the gold standard for right action, all these came together to give me a lot of free time, and to deny me the joy of struggle, the joy of successful struggle. I can barely even see the system around me: it bends to accommodate me again and again. Where then to find my joy?

I drank a lot abroad. I shat a little blood abroad, to be frank. Abroad where my money suddenly tripled in value; abroad where everyone assumed I had something special going on, in the global South where I was automatically worth knowing. Only out on the street at the barbecue stands would they click their tongues — when I lost my gloves and couldn’t find them, when I forgot to pay or get my food or do anything but suck from the little clear flasks.

This is a set of decisions that ends the empire. Someone abject but sober sees me wavering through the city streets with my briefcase and my dress shirt, and they think — in a way that no affirmation could accomplish — that person is weak. And it’s true. The empire is sand, it runs on faith in the futility of attempts at its destruction. You walk into my office and you obey me because you can’t visualize what it would be like to refuse to do so.

Or you walk into my office and you smell that thin, permeating chemical smell, and you see my big red nose, and you think, fuck this. Or you walk into my office and something happens that the endless patience of the campus police, my white bosses, and the assumptions of the community can’t paper over. Or you walk into my office and there’s nobody there, because I’m curled up on my couch at my apartment, leaking 8% ABV tears, watching daytime television because I’m too nauseous to sleep and too sleepy to retch.

People talk about “white guilt” in order to somehow deauthenticize certain kinds of attempts to produce political or social equity, which is bullshit. White guilt is real, it is elemental. When one denies the bodies gutted and stepped over in order to produce the sweeping farms and the full coffers, one experiences those murdered victims as ghosts — like my mother, who won’t cross 35th street for any purpose at any time, who treats black neighborhoods like burial grounds. Another option is to live in a kind of party-loving irony. It’s industry night in the slaughterhouse of the capital; put on a silly hat. I consent to my punishment from the first shot of Jameson, I know it’s coming. I’m not sure I’d love to drink so much if it didn’t hurt.

My couch is the site of great wonders for your future. When I am on my couch I am not stealing from you. When I am on my couch I am not allowing my imagination to be twisted into the forms of your oppression. I am not breeding or investing or writing tax code. I am getting in touch with my quality as a horror. The resources I waste doing that primarily hamper my ability to waste further resources.

Get up, you say, fist swinging. Work for change! No. The change that is coming is not mine, it cannot be for or by me. Always too little, always in my own interest. Objective standards and community initiatives, chasing blackness and poverty through a maze with a pitchfork, stuffing it underground, abroad, hiding it off the main street. I’m better off giving blurry, ridiculous tips to bartenders. I’m better off getting changed, I’m better off making myself unable to resist it.

I suspect about half of America’s fraternity brothers understand this. Some of them are building homosocial, patriarchal bonds that they’ll profit from for the rest of their lives; lots of them, though, are just in there drinking to beat the band. Don’t you want to do well in your classes, you ask? Meet girls? They look back at you glassily. They still play Beck’s "Loser" at parties, I hear, even decades after it was fashionable.

I can see you twisting your toe on the linoleum trying to find a way to ask the thing you want to ask without setting me off: why not die? Besides my cowardice (you will note that my Jameson-triggered punishment is delayed twelve to eighteen hours; this enables it, as I’m too chickenshit to bash my own head in directly), this type of long, slow decline is superior in what it articulates about the empire that enables it. Watch me magically — no, offensively, that’s the word I’m looking for — bounce up the economy’s long flight of stairs. See me accidentally outcompete my betters. Bear witness to the emptiness of the empire’s core values: equality, justice, opportunity.

I woke up in a hedge next to a substantial thoroughfare: the officer said, you can’t sleep here, buddy. Can I see some ID? I had excellent ID. Once when I was a kid I got caught with forties on the school playground: pour that out, the officer said. He wrote my name down in a little flipbook that was clearly temporary and disposable. I showed up to work one day still drunk and reported to someone who doesn’t know what that looks like: how are you doing, they said. So pleased to be here, just really really pleased, I said.

Because what do I do? What are the secret arts for which the few are rewarded so richly? Why do I have health insurance while lots of others work sixty hour weeks for a fraction of the pay? Doesn’t matter: what matters is that with my ID and my address, my birthplace and the invisible and concrete capital I inherited, I’m more likely to be encouraged to do it buzzed than a more qualified person is to be allowed to do it sober.

To limit one’s outrage to that, though, is to notice that I haven’t answered the question, yet. What I do, what anyone who actually receives rewards from the imperium has to do, is to work to concentrate capital. If a process is profitable, we make it more efficient. If an elite is empowered, we provide it services. If an opposition arises, we buy it up or stamp it out. This proceeds from the elementary school teacher who fails the students with “poor writing skills” to the restaurant manager who hires whites as waiters and puts everybody else in the kitchen to the owner who locates the most exploitative labor in the poorest, least resilient community they can find.

None of the highways get built, none of the bullets get polished without loyalty. This is why they shower (or dribble, or promise) riches on people who look and speak and act like themselves. Their loyalty engines are weak, considering the dirty work to be done.

I promise to do a shit job at all that. I am an agent of brown liquors. I will smuggle the meaninglessness and meanness of the system back into itself, and you do the rest. Outside the necessities of life, which are a right belonging to us all, the only thing the empire provides is intoxication and illusion — the illusions are expensive and poisonous, but the intoxication is cheap and feels natural. How have they ever gotten even one of us to kill for them when you can get as fucked as you want for almost nothing?


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