The Circle Pit and the Kind Bastard

Woody Harrelson

There are certain types of social activities that can sweep you up, where participation is mutually enforced. Anyone who has been in a good circle pit knows this. You choose to jump in, but you will be launched along the path of the pit whether or not you're even trying to keep going. When the energy level drops, though, the pit suddenly dissipates. Sometimes this is when the music stops, or sometimes it's just when it slows down. Either way, without the psychic force of the music, the social and physical force of the circle pit loses its reason for existing. Without the psychic force of the music, the people who are in the pit, who made the choice to form or join it, stop following the rules of the pit, thus annhilating it.

Sometimes you have the opportunity to do something selfish. You are well aware that it's selfish, but it will also help your friends, family, or others you care about. You wouldn't have done it normally, but you have a responsibility to help your people. Maybe the only reason it's a selfish action in the first place is because of some bullshit institution like money. The person you harm through this action would certainly not be happy about it, but they might understand if you explained, and definitely would, if they felt how you felt. Perhaps you'd feel worse about it if you knew all the ramifications, or if you could feel how they feel. You are a kind bastard.

Both of these are reflections of the structural problems we need to tackle to create a society free of rule. We often may focus intense hatred on people who are oppressing us. But many of them, rather than being evil scum, are swept up in the hurricane forces of capitalist institutions. Maybe they even want to get out, but they are carried away by the cycles of capital gains, inflation, boom, and bust. Many are just kind bastards who are looking out for their own. Some might even just be afraid to fall, for themselves or for their families. The capitalist pit involves such psychic force that it transforms psyches, turning normal, caring people into rich, criminal assholes. We will never know whether there was a malicious intent in capitalism or whether it just evolved to be so fucked up.

And on the other hand, there are plenty of bastards among your preferred revolutionary class.

Rather than a class struggle, we need an annihilation of class. We need to stop, or at least quiet, the psychic stimulus that propels people through the pit, following the rules of class struggle. The pit is propelled mostly by those who can be certain that the circle will hold together. If confidence in the integrity of the pit is shattered, the pit will shatter as well. If enough people were to suddenly exit, confidence in the rest would disintegrate. Finance, central to capitalism, is heavily based on confidence. Psychic force can have profound effects on it. The housing bubble was caused by confidence, and in 2008, confidence collapsed, with the economy following.

Capitalism is not about maximizing your speed through the pit, but about being faster than everyone else. Those on the inside can travel the circle many times with little effort, and the smaller the inner circle is, the faster they get and the less effort they have to make. Not only can they themselves go fast, they can push people out of the inner circle, towards the outer edge, where the path around the circumference takes much longer and much more effort. There are people at all distances from the center that make the effort to move much faster than everyone else. They won't necessarily move closer to the inner circle, and they often clobber slower-moving people. Many of them are kind bastards who will give their friends a push, or clobber those who are trying to push their friends toward the outside.

The more people follow this logic, the larger the pit becomes, until those on the outside are pushed against the wall, and start to push back. Most of the time, the inner circle's integrity is maintained by the nucleus of people who are following the inner circle's logic, or just trying to make sure their friends don't get clobbered. The outside could organize and use their superior numbers to break the inner circle and the nucleus of this capitalist pit, then start their own. But unless they change the logic of the pit, they will just end up with a new inner circle. This logic can be strongly influenced by the music the pit forms to. Right now we're listening to some bro-friendly, generic, tough guy hardcore band. If the rest of us steal some instruments and join together to sing posi powerviolence songs instead, we could drown out the chugs and grunts, undermining the logic of the pit.

Gentrification spatially resembles a circle pit. Poor people are shuffled around in circles through the city, pushed forward through the pit by wealthier people, unwitting footsoldiers in the war of one class against another. Many kind bastards are unfortunately gentrifiers. The force at play isn't a mechanical push, but it's every bit as propulsive. The force of money, of inflation, is the centripetal force that creates the pit and pushes the poor along through the space of the city. Every stumbling step the poor take is followed with more inflationary force. Most often this takes the form of rent hikes, but all costs of living can contribute an inflationary push through the pit. Over time, the pit expands to include ever-larger suburbs. The poor create cultural wealth, and the wealthy capitalize on it, building newer, more expensive housing developments, and creating businesses that more expensively replicate the existing cultural wealth.

The reaction against those in the same “class” or specific identity as the oppressors (white men, hipsters, bourgeois, etc.), or even against the oppressors themselves, will not change the structure of oppression. Reactionary finger-pointing to someone you feel is personally responsible will not result in solutions to the problems. The results can be only oppression by a different group, or segregation. Neither of these options are progressive, humanist, liberatory or utopian. Hating your oppressors is understandable, but not productive. Punishment doesn't prevent crime, nor will it prevent oppression. Only structural changes will prevent oppression in the long term.

Kind bastards will change when another way is possible for them. They'd rather be kind than bastards, but the force of the pit pushes everyone to be a bastard. It's the rules of the pit that makes bastardly acts justifiable by the kindness it does for their people. They are pushing you along because everyone else is doing it, or because someone else will do it anyway, or because others are doing it to them. We need to change the rules of the pit to one where selfishness can't be justified by altruism, where helping your people doesn't harm others. We need to make the kind bastards care that people are being pushed around. We need to make humans and ecologies our ingroup, and unite around our common aversion to zombies or killer robots (please don't engineer either of these, you accelerationists out there).

We need universalism to get the kind bastards on our side, to drown out the exclusionary tough guys. Dividing people up by classes and presuming that anyone from a certain class will maintain alliances with that class is anti-humanist, essentialist, and reinforces the ideology of class in the first place. We need coherence, reason, and enlightenment to shatter the capitalist pit, to form one where no one is pushed against the walls, where there's no race to win. Municipalism can destroy the gentrification pit and transform the way the rules are perceived.