Class, the London riots, and Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower

I’ve been wanting to write a blog post on Octavia Butler’s two part series, The Parable of the Sower and the Parable of the Talents. I read it for the second time recently, and I noticed so many more politically relevant and potent aspects of the novels this time around. Of course, I was reading it in the bathtub and not taking notes, so I dont remember most of the things I wanted to write about, but something came up today.

Towards the beginning of the first book, we are introduced to a sort of post-apocalyptic America. The US government is still there, but barely hanging on. Life is extremely dangerous and insecure. The main character, Lauren, is a 15 year old woman, “lucky” to be living in a lower middle class neighborhood with a giant wall built around it. Few people who live within have jobs on the outside. They grow their own food, raise chickens to sell, and the young people never go outside except to ride their bikes with adults into the hills so that they can target practice.

Unfortunately, as Lauren suspects will happen, this situation wont last forever. Although the mega-rich are still out there, the lumpen cant reach them inside their gated communities protected by security contractors. And so they go after Lauren’s neighborhood. In her eyes, they aren’t rich and dont warrant such an attack. In the eyes of the street people and drug addicts who carry out the attack, though, they have privilege, wealth and everything that comes with it and, hence, are deserving of attack.

This story makes me think about the reports of working class neighborhoods being looted and lit on fire by the rioters in London and surrounding areas. If you grow up in the projects or estates, cant get a job, cant go to college, then people who have jobs, and cars, and their own homes and even small businesses could look like pretty tempting bait. They could look like the rich who are deserving of attack, even if they are exploited on the job by managers and capitalists and have no control over their lives and only a little more paper to show for it than you do. And the super rich are in their gated communities, protected by the police, and video surveillance… much too challenging for an unorganized riot to take on. But not an insurrection.

I’ve been thinking for some time that I need to understand more clearly class composition in the United States. My reflections on my family and class are a piece of this, but its related to the bigger picture. Its not clear who is on what side of the class war, or where they will fall when the time comes. If we had this political clarity, then we could argue against violence on the working class, without just condemning the riots. We could push for a reorientation to the capitalists, the ruling class, the mega rich. We could fight for class solidarity with the rest of the working class… and even argue that the lower middle classes interests lie with ours. But I think first we need this political clarity: What is class? Who is working class? Why does that mean we shouldnt attack each other and we have the same interests? (Unless youre a fascist or something.)

Happy Birthday, James Baldwin.

a day late on this, actually.

I have been thinking lately that I need to read more James Baldwin. I think I have only read, along with some short stories and essays, Just Above My Head, and it was amazing. I read it in Palestine, where I read a lot of fiction as a form of escapism from apartheid.

Lately, my “light” bathtub reading (I take a lot of baths and I like to read in there) has been different feminist histories, in preparation for a study group on patriarchy and gender I am starting in a few months with comrades. (I wont front, lately my bathtub reading has also included the last volume of Harry Potter, the Mars Trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson, and Octavia Butler’s Lilith’s Brood series. I’ve been wanting to write blog posts about all three of those, actually.)

I have been wanting to read James Baldwin in the bathtub, but honestly, what I have read from him is so hard hitting, I dont think I can consider it light reading. Well, considering that in one of my last baths I read about the genocide of Native peoples and the effects on women and gender, I dont think it can get much heavier.

Anyways, here’s a quote from James Baldwin, from The Fire Next Time.

        “Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death, the only fact we have. It seems to me that one ought to rejoice in the fact of death–ought to decide, indeed, to earn one’s death by confronting with passion the conundrum of life.”

He passed away in the 80s, but at least before he died, he knew that “the fact of death” or impermanence was something to rejoice in and not run from.

Without death, there cannot be rebirth.