Column: The Tiger’s Leap

Heathen Chinese —  November 19, 2016 — 34 Comments


In 1940, Walter Benjamin wrote, “The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the ’emergency situation’ in which we live is the rule. We must arrive at a concept of history which corresponds to this. Then it will become clear that the task before us is the introduction of a real state of emergency; and our position in the struggle against Fascism will thereby improve.” (thesis 8) It’s a good thing that Pagans and Polytheists have been talking about strengthening their communities and developing defense and solidarity networks, but black and brown people in America have long been living in an “emergency situation.” Obama has deported over 2.5 million undocumented immigrants while in office. Black, indigenous, Hispanic and Latino people have been killed by the police at consistently higher rates than those seen as white. This reality must be kept in mind as we analyze the present moment.

Tiger mosaic from the "House of Dionysos," a 2nd-3rd century Roman villa at Kato Paphos [Paul McCoubrie / Flickr]

Tiger mosaic, “House of Dionysos,” Kato Paphos [Paul McCoubrie / Flickr]

Benjamin also wrote that “to articulate what is past does not mean to recognize ‘how it really was.’ It means to take control of a memory, as it flashes in a moment of danger.” (ibid 6) We live in a moment of danger, but it is up to us whether or not we will seize memories from the past as they flash by, and which memories they will be. For “the true picture of the past whizzes by” and “threatens to disappear with every present which does not recognize itself as meant in it.” (ibid 5)

Like the 1930s, the present is once again “a moment wherein the politicians in whom the opponents of Fascism had placed their hopes have been knocked supine, and have sealed their downfall by the betrayal of their own cause.” (ibid 10) Like the German Social Democrats, “the stubborn faith in progress of these politicians, their trust in their ‘mass basis’ and finally their servile subordination into an uncontrollable apparatus have been three sides of the same thing.” (ibid 10)

In such a moment, we are reminded that “it has been given us to know, just like every generation before us, a weak messianic power, on which the past has a claim. This claim is not to be settled lightly.” (ibid 2) This messianic power is weak because there is nothing inevitable about its victory. Like our ancestors before us, we may well be crushed once again by the ruling classes. Like them, we will seek ways to survive nonetheless. But perhaps this time we will become that “final enslaved and avenging class, which carries out the work of emancipation in the name of generations of downtrodden to its conclusion.” (ibid 12)

Benjamin described the seizing of the past in the moment of danger as an explosive rather than a progressive process:

For Robespierre, Roman antiquity was a past charged with the here-and-now, which he exploded out of the continuum of history. The French revolution thought of itself as a latter day Rome. It cited ancient Rome exactly the way fashion cites a past costume. Fashion has an eye for what is up-to-date, wherever it moves in the jungle of what was. It is the tiger’s leap into that which has gone before […] into the open sky of history. (ibid 14)

Burned National Guard vehicles, Highway 1806. []

Burned National Guard vehicles, Lakota land. []

Make It Impossible for This System to Govern on Stolen Land

Benjamin’s call for the “introduction of a real state of emergency” is echoed in Indigenous Action Media’s recent essay “Anti-colonial & Anti-fascist Action: Make It Impossible for This System to Govern on Stolen Land,” which reminds its readers that “moments and movements” such as Black Lives Matter and the struggle against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) “are the result of ongoing resistance that has been waged for hundreds of years on these lands.” The essay quotes black anarchist Lorenzo Kom’boa Ervin’s statement that “we must make it impossible for Trump to govern the country, and must put power in the hands of the people in the streets.”

The struggle against the DAPL, also known as the Black Snake (zuzeca sape), is one that reflects both the current global “state of emergency” and a long history of anti-colonial warfare on the plains of North America. On Oct. 27, six different states (Wisconsin, Indiana, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wyoming, and Nebraska) sent officers to assist North Dakota police raid the Sacred Ground camp which was located on Lakota territory under the terms of the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie, and directly blocking the path of the DAPL. The out-of-state police were sent under the auspices of the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, an interstate compact that was supposedly “designed for natural disaster situations,” but which has been used against two uprisings in the past two years: the Baltimore rebellion after the police killing of Freddie Grey, and Standing Rock.

In the course of the Oct. 27 raid, a DAPL security guard pointed an AR-15 at water protectors, but his truck was run off the road, looted and burned. The National Guard was sent against a blockade on Highway 1806, the incursion was fiercely resisted, and two military supply trucks were set on fire as well. The active participation of the U.S. military in the operation is a clear sign that the Indian wars never ended. Small wonder that an Oct. 30 dispatch from Red Warrior Camp signed off with the phrase, “In The Spirit of Crazy Horse.”

The Indigenous Action Media essay makes explicit the terms of the ongoing war between the forces of colonization and indigenous communities:

We stopped talking about hope when we had to focus on survival. […] We reconnected to the understanding that we never had a choice but to fight. That colonization has always been war. That we are survivors of its brutality. That we’ve never stopped fighting.

We understand the difference between power over and power with. That there’s more power to the power of people than choosing which system will rule them. That no politician can ever represent Indigenous lifeways within the context of a political system established by colonialism. That representational/electoral politics are oppositional to liberation from colonial oppression. That the struggles of our ancestors, who defended Mother Earth and her beings with prayers and weapons in hand, is the same struggle that we carry forward today.

[Black Spring / Instagram]

Olympia anti-fracking train blockade. [Black Spring / Instagram]

We Resonate Across More than One Time and Place

Many calls for direct support and solidarity with the struggle against the DAPL have been made, including by witches and spirit-workers. A “clandestine coven at Standing Rock” has issued a call “to all witches, pagans, and co-conspirators of earth centered spiritual faith to join us in resistance.” They write: “We call you to join a frontline battle in a spiritual war that has been raging for centuries. A war against a dead civilization for all life on earth.”

Spirit-workers have invoked a curse against “the Agents, Executives, and Mercenaries of the Dakota Access Pipeline,” utilizing a sigil which they invite “those who wish to support this curse to inscribe […] against the buildings, cars, equipment of company executives & agents, and law enforcement and private security agencies who serve as their mercenaries.

Since Nov.11, water protectors in Olympia, Washington have been blocking railroad tracks in order to stop “a train carrying hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) proppants from exiting the Port of Olympia.” “Proppants” are ceramic beads used in the fracking process, and the proppants aboard the blocked train are intended for the Bakken oil fields where the oil which DAPL is being built to transport is extracted. On Nov.18, the encampment was cleared by the police, but in the words of one blockader, “This isn’t over. This is never over.” Funds are being raised for legal fees.

The water protectors in Olympia explicitly state that “as we hold down the tracks in Olympia, we resonate across more than one time and place.” They invoke the memory of the Port Militarization Resistance struggle of 2007, when military shipments intended for the Iraq War were blockaded at the port of Olympia. “There is a real force that shares power between these times and places where people have and continue to resist authority,” they write.

Another article traces the roots of the special agents of the Union Pacific Railroad back to the infamous Pinkerton Detective Agency: “It is appropriate that the blockade be facing the same agency that birthed both the FBI and every major private security company in the US. All of them were created to protect capital and for no other reason. This is their only function.” The writers align themselves with the “indigenous people, bandits, and saboteurs” who attacked Union Pacific railroads in the 1800s, with the Homestead Steel Works strikers who fought the Pinkertons, with a long and rich lineage of resistance.

Train blockades have been used elsewhere in the anti-DAPL struggle as well, ranging geographically from Atlanta, Georgia to Mandan, North Dakota (about 80 kilometers north of the anti-DAPL encampments) to Montreal, Quebec to the Kahnawake Mohawk Territory. During the 1990 conflict at nearby Kanesatake, warriors from Kahnawake shut down the Mercier Bridge for over a month. In solidarity with the struggle against DAPL, the Mercier Bridge was again blocked for several hours on October 28, and train tracks were blockaded on November 4 and again on November 15. The effectiveness of the tactic can be seen in a proposed law in Washington State that would make blocking oil trains or otherwise disrupting transportation and commerce a felony and label such actions “economic terrorism.”

[Public Domain]

Chess-playing automaton. [Paul K / Flickr]

The Services of Theology

Marxists believe that “the puppet called ‘historical materialism’ is always supposed to win.” Comparing the relationship between historical materialism and theology to that of a chess-playing automaton manipulated by a dwarf hidden inside it, Walter Benjamin turned this thesis on its head: “it can do this […] so long as it employs the services of theology, which as everyone knows is small and ugly and must be kept out of sight.” (ibid 1)

I believe that the guidance of the gods, ancestors and spirits is what will get me and my communities through the times ahead. Here I use the word “through” not in the sense of “along,” but in the sense of “exploding the continuum of history.” We aim to survive, to keep our traditions alive, to defend ourselves, to destroy the system which seeks to destroy us, and to find joy and beauty and love in every moment of the struggle.

*   *   *

The views and opinions expressed by our diverse panel of columnists and guest writers represent the many diverging perspectives held within the global Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities, but do not necessarily reflect the views of The Wild Hunt Inc. or its management.

Heathen Chinese


Heathen Chinese writes the TWH monthly column, "Tiger's Leap." He is the son of Chinese immigrants and is a diasporic Chinese polytheist living in the San Francisco Bay Area (stolen Ohlone land). He practices ancestor veneration and worships (among others) the warrior god Guan Di, who has had a presence in California since the mid-1800s.
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  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    I’d read of the anti-blockading law draft but had no context for it. Thank you for providing that.

  • Finally, something timely. May the gods, spirits and ancestors aid us in this bursting through.

  • Spare the euphemisms. “Undocumented immigrants” are illegal. You might not like the term, but that is what it is. If you don’t like it, change the law. I’ve heard these things for thirty years, and nobody wants to change the immigration law. When you have politicos treating the law with contempt, why should anyone follow the law?

    I totally agree with what Theodore Roosevelt wrote about immigration in 1907.

    Second, you can’t accuse police of killing minorities more than “whites” unless you take context into account. That means you can not ignore the actions of individuals who happen to be minority who commit violent crimes. I’m not saying there isn’t a problem and I am not excusing the police from responsibility. I am saying that to assume everyone is innocent regardless of behavior and based on “racial” membership just encourages more violence.

    Third, folks are curiously selective when taking their stand. High profile things like the DAPL get the press and attention, while things like H.R. 5780 are routinely ignored.

    • Baruch Dreamstalker

      NeoWayland, I am unpersuaded by your second point, primarily for the following reason: All the accidental videos that have surfaced of police manslaughter of minorities. Unless I became convinced that a like number of accidental videos exist with white victims but none of them went viral, no theoretical after-the-fact scene-setting is persuasive.

      • The national crime statistics of minority on minority crime in the inner cities should terrify anyone. If no one is a criminal because of their “race,” just how does that help the victims of violent crime?

        This is what BLM doesn’t want to admit.

        There are problems that have nothing to do with the police. These problems are made worse by blaming the police. The problems are made still worse by disarming the people who trust in the law to protect them.

        But that doesn’t fit the narrative.

        • Baruch Dreamstalker

          One point at a time:I agree that minority-on-minority crime is terrifying. I discovered in 1980 that the gender crossover rate — the age above which a population has more women while below that it has more men — is ten years younger for black men than white men. This fact is not an argument for shoddy policing; in fact it calls for better policing.I refuse to second-guess the motives of BLM, if only because it’s so diffuse.At no point have I suggested the police be blamed for something not their fault. What I have talked about is the flood of viral videos of police manslaughter of minorities.I do not regard it as established that an armed populace is a safer populace, certainly not subjected to international comparison.We do not need a conspiratorial “narrative” to explain the facts in view.

          • I think we can’t afford to assume that because a police officer has shot a minority male that the officer is guilty. I think each case should be judged on it’s own merits WITHOUT “race” being a factor. Lady Justice is blind for a reason.

            That being said, yes, there are some police issues in this country. One of my favorite columnists, Radley Balko, has written extensively on the militarization of American police with “surplus” military hardware. He’s also the guy who invented the term “puppycide.”

            Lower violent crime rates in American cities and states that allow concealed carry does seem to show that sometimes an armed law-abiding populace is a safer populace.

            If you’ve not read it, I strongly suggest Clayton E. Cramer’s essay The Racist Roots of Gun Control.

            Please understand, I detest guns. Even though I am libertarian and a Red-Blooded American male who likes watching stuff go BOOM. If I could I would destroy every gun on the planet.

            But I KNOW that the only thing more dangerous than armed government agents is armed government agents and an unarmed populace.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            I quite agree that every case should be judged on its merits. When police shot a man in the back who is walking or running away (2 videos), or choke a man illegally selling loose cigarettes and he dies, I would say the merits are pretty clear. Due process needs to be followed, but that involves a tentative conclusion from the evidence. That is why I chose the phrase “police manslaughter of minorities.”I’m also aware that a ban on “Saturday night specials” would differentially disarm people in already dangerous settings. That’s why I lean more to closing background-check loopholes and limiting assault weapons or at least magazine sizes. Your other points are repetitive and I decline to simply repeat my earlier replies.

          • I know we’re not going to agree but I urge you to read the Cramer essay. Gun control is not as black or white as we have been taught.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            This is known as the Scholar’s Ploy: “You can’t understand why you’re wrong unless you read this book.” It is insulting to both of us, to me because it presupposes my ignorance and to you because it implies you can’t make a cogent argument succinctly. You probably didn’t intend this, but this is why Scholar’s Ploy is a classic fallacy of debate.To put it another way, assigning homework is not an argument.

          • I meant no insult.

            That particular essay discusses history that is wildly off topic for this site. I bring it up because I think it’s ironic to be discussing better police procedures on one hand and disarming the public on the other, all because some police may have gone too far.

            I’ve read your posts here. I know you can think. Before you dismiss me entirely, ask yourself two questions.

            Who is targeted when Saturday night specials are banned? Why?

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            I’m glad you meant no insult, and I never dismiss anybody entirely. 😉 Poor people are targeted. Because so many of them are poor, black people are especially targeted.”Why” isn’t so obvious. At one level it’s outrage that someone was killed with a gun. That’s when this idea comes to life. If one’s image of what the armed thug packs is a Saturday night special, that’s what’s ban is sought. At another level it’s the already somewhat organized tribal response of people not at ease with gun-slinging, to curtail the lethality of the gun-slingers without going one on one; this one also has an image of the armed thug’s arms. For some it’s thinking that disarming the poor makes cities safer for everyone. Finally, this debate is old; the latest Supreme Court utterance strengthened the right of the individual to keep and bear arms, and weakened the State regulation implied in the same Amendment’s text, “A well-regulated militia…”

          • Thank you for considering my questions.

            I agree with your answers.

        • Hypatia Tassiant

          Since when did anyone, even BLM, claim that there are no real black criminals??? Of course violent criminals exist.

          The problem is that too many police are too quick to shoot black people who are obviously NOT endangering the police in any way, as evidenced by the many videos of such incidents. Too often, apparently, police are jumping to conclusions based on race.

          Exactly what it will take to solve this problem is a matter that can be debated. At the very least, many police apparently need better training in how to make the split-second decision as to whether a suspect is likely to shoot them and, therefore, whether the police need to shoot first.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            One of my fellow UUs is a psych prof and she gave a sermon once about how we all get threat-programmed young, specifically to see blacks as dangerous, and never really get rid of it, but one can learn to keep it from taking over. Cops are already trained in split-second decision making; what’s need is training to reduce the sway of the imbedded threat flags.

          • The problem is that we know what we’ve been told.

            I no more believe that most police choose force as a first option than I believe that most inner city minority male youth are dangerous criminals. There are narratives being sold here on “both” sides. I feel at the least we should ask who benefits from these narratives and why.

            One more thing. As a libertarian, I don’t think police are a good idea.

          • Hypatia Tassiant

            You don’t think police are a good idea? Then how do you think violent criminals should be dealt with?

            Alas, it seems to me that the only alternative to police is lynch mobs, which are a far worse idea.

          • I’ve a friend I meet sometimes for breakfast. A month ago he would laugh when I told him that government should be smaller than absolutely necessary. Now he’s not so sure.

            Obviously no police is not a complete solution in and of itself. But look at it from the criminal’s POV for a second. They see a single woman walking down the street. Easy pickings. Unless she is armed. That one possibility completely changes everything. She doesn’t actually have to be armed, the idea that she might be will drive possible muggers and rapists away. On a good night in a major city, police response time will be between ten minutes and a half hour. A lot can happen in that time.

            BLM is cherry picking their cases and occasionally withholding facts. Their cause is good but their tactics are lousy.How many is too many? Does this really show racism or is it a misuse of police? What happens when the police decide not to enter certain neighborhoods because of the very public criticism? That last one has been happening for a couple of years now.

            These are things we need to talk about. We can’t do that if people assume that police officers overreact too much. We can’t do that if we raise one victim group over all others, even if the others are minorities too.

          • kenofken

            I’m not sold on the every person as their own militia libertarian model of public safety. We have homicide rates that are overwhelmingly higher than all other developed nations, and violent crime rates as a whole that are in the running of the worst of them. Some of our worst cities are comparable to some of the worst in the world where crime is concerned. We also have the highest rate of civilian gun ownership on the planet and a private arms supply large enough to equip every single human being in the country with a weapon.

            Nor can we chalk up the problem to liberal disarmament of gun control regimes. Through both legislatures and courts, barriers to gun ownership and concealed carry have been almost entirely swept away. There is essentially no jurisdiction where it is impossible for law abiding citizens to arm themselves. Across the South and West, there are virtually no barriers or red tape at all. That doesn’t seem to be deterring much of anything. I don’t think it’s even changing the criminal cost-benefit calculation of crimes like muggings in the way you suggest. I live in the Chicago area, and in the city, we’re seeing muggers working in groups of up to 10, pretty much negating any advantage an armed victim might have had.

          • There are some other things that should be considered. Some of the cities with the strictest gun control laws are the ones with the highest homicide rates. That’s been true for decades.

            In cities and states that allow concealed carry, the violent crime rate is lower.

            There are jurisdictions where it is nearly impossible for people to legally arm themselves. New York City is one.

            And then there is the real reason for the 2nd Amendment. It’s not for people to defend themselves against other citizens, it’s for citizens to defend themselves against their government.

            A month ago that probably didn’t matter so much to you. Today, well…

          • Franklin_Evans

            In following this tangent, in which I find things to agree with on both sides of the argument, I just wish to caution you about the violent crimes rate vs. gun control laws: It is not shown that it can be taken as anything more than a correlation. Causal links are still tenuous from the data. As a data point amongst several, notably socio-economic pressures, it has validity, but not (yet) on its own.

    • Hypatia Tassiant

      There are too many injustices in the world for anyone to keep track of. So, it’s no surprise that only a few of them get lots of public attention. If you are aware of specific injustices that you think should be getting more attention than they are, it is up to you to help publicize them. But please DON’T use them as an excuse to put down people who are fighting against other, better-known injustices.

      • Yes, some are better known than others.

        Deliberately so. “Some animals are more equal that others.”

        We should be asking why.

        Is the goal really about confronting injustice?

        Or is it about perpetuating victimhood? That’s been very profitable for some. It makes it easy for certain people to look like they care without getting their hands dirty. The more headlines, the more attention, the better they look as a person.

        The attention diverts from the original problem.

        Compassion can be exploited just like injustice.

        • Hypatia Tassiant

          Please give a specific example of what you mean by “perpetuating victimhood” in contrast to “confronting injustice.”

          • ❝I’m afraid there is a certain class of race problem solvers who don’t want the patient to get well, because as long as the disease holds out they have not only an easy means of making a living, but also an easy medium through which to make themselves prominent before the public.❞
            — Booker T. Washington

            Why do inner city minorities and particularly inner city “blacks” have it so rough? It’s been more than fifty years since the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Why are there still so many perpetual victims?

            In other words, why do Black Lives Matter more than other lives?

            Maybe, just maybe the institutional racism isn’t where we’re taught it is.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            Why do […] inner city “blacks” have it so rough? It’s been more than fifty years since the Civil Rights Act of 1964.The Civil Rights Act was about equality of access to opportunity. It does nothing about the ability to take advantage of that access. It was a great step; I was around then and you could tell how important it was by how bitterly it was opposed. The ability to take advantage of access was supposed to sort itself out; for blacks it didn’t.It’s interesting to see the effects of that act on blacks and on women, the latter being included in a failed legislative attempt to scuttle it. Over the next fifty years, women flooded into positions of influence. That’s what it did to people prepared to take advantage of new access. But women per se were not ghettoized, with all that it implies, so it worked for them. Not so well with blacks.BTW I don’t mean to imply that the act did nothing for blacks. But it didn’t solve the underclass problem, any more than being white solves the problems of poor whites.

          • Franklin_Evans

            What Baruch said, plus this: every legislative attempt to bring equality of opportunity has been met with inherent loopholes gleefully used, and lacking those loopholes acts of direct sabotage of the legislation that by themselves — mostly due to lack of legislated language — were not deemed illegal even when they resulted in maintaining the very conditions the legislation deemed prohibited.

  • Big Ern

    I think Heathen Chinese doesn’t realize is that if he is angry about the fact that the world doesn’t conform to his ideal or world view on how the would “ought to be” or “must be” that its his anger; that its his neuropeptide coursing through his brain triggered by his “Must”erbating thoughts. Look it up Musterbation. Heathen Chinese their you emotions, so own them! Get over the fact that you are unable to control the world or what other people think or their action. The only person that is causing you to suffer is you. What nobody ran you through the whole gitmoe experience so you have no room to complain!

    • Hypatia Tassiant

      So you don’t think people should try to improve the world in which they live? Being angry about the status quo is a necessary prerequisite to any group effort to achieve justice.

  • thalia

    Thanks for your column. I discovered this website last month and your articles inspired me to contribute to the fall fund drive.

    • Heathen Chinese

      Thanks! I’m glad you got something out of reading my column.

    • Heather Greene

      Thank you for reading and for the support.

  • Franklin_Evans

    My personal and decidedly anecdotal experiences inform the following. Grains of salt are urged, but there’s an abstract level to this that I believe must be stated.

    The immigrant “experience” has changed drastically since my parents left Italy as exiles from their places of birth to eventually become U.S. citizens. My profile picture is my mother, a photographic portrait circa 1940. It’s there from my Facebook profile, and has remained well past the Samhain remembrance motivation for it because she is metaphorically watching the aftermath of the presidential election.

    Our society is by definition an open society. The markers of that openness are embedded in our criminal justice system, and the corruption of it currently is starkly illustrated by the politics of fear. Briefly put, there is no such thing as a crime until evidence of it happening is presented. For law enforcement, this is called probable cause. Upon arrest, innocent until proven guilty, due process, jury by peers and a verdict of guilty must all prevail before a defendant can be called a criminal.

    Our history as a nation is a long litany of corrupt and failed applications of the definition of an open society. We currently living citizens must be aware of that history, but our obligation as citizens is to the present, and that present is governed by the longest running non-wartime abrogation of our rights in an open society, starting with the so-called Patriot Act.

    It is very simply put a panacea to a culture that has become itself governed by fear. We are told that crime can be prevented, which is a direct contradiction to an open society. We fail to realize, with many proofs in history, that there can be no such thing as prevention of crime short of a closed society, a police state.

    Personally, there can be no better illustration of the culture of fear than in my neighbors, people of color and ethnic minorities who come to or are born into an atmosphere of fear of law enforcement and by extension of each other. This is already overlong as a post, I won’t go further into that, but I will summarize the testimony and witness of those neighbors: systemic and institutionalized racism is a fact of life, despair and violent behavior is a natural consequence of those trapped by circumstances and political and business power elites who gain advantage from them.

    One final personal comment: You (general) can use statistics and statistical comparisons as you wish, but without paying close attention to the details and leaping to conclusions from it all, I can only offer one response: there are lies, damn lies and statistics.