Essays, etc.

My name is Diana. I make things but generally not very well. I put thoughts here.

> Spirits of the Human Animal

Spirits of the Human Animal

Table of Contents

  1. Spirits
  2. Rhetoric
  3. Community
  4. Transition
  5. Civilization
  6. Language
  7. Animals


It is worth remembering that humans are animals too. I say this to keep in mind the wilderness inherent to our being, and the vulnerability of our mortal essence. We are flesh and bone, fear and lust; our monuments do not distinguish us in any way that matters.

We are not the only sapient species on the planet; many people have known this for thousands of years. They in their wisdom found ways to collaborate, such as fisherfolk of Oceania and dolphins that learned to corral fish-schools into the reach of nets. Just because a species does not build in concrete or wage genocide does not mean it has no languages or cultures. Efforts to determine the seeming intelligence of other animals miss the point, approaching only a more liberal phrenology. The question is not whether an animal thinks like a human. The question is how to cooperate with as much sophistication as possible. Not merely as a pet or beast of burden, but as a knowing partner in civilization.

Animal personhood often serves as a distraction from issues of anthropocentric society, but I mean no distraction. Only by resolving the crises of humanity can we rise to the further challenge of advancing pluralism's frontiers beyond humanity. Only by toppling the twin titans of capital and colony can that world of the heart be born out of this era of strife. Understanding humans as animals presages this unity of living things, and illuminates the nature of our innate frailty.

Something has happened to me over the years. I have argued with so many people about values, who speak in bad faith without even knowing it. Reasonable people in one place become thoughtless bigots in another. They cannot hear, they cannot meaningfully reason. No words reach them, but are only placed in their mouths to regurgitate. An insistent retrograde program, coming alive in someone you love. I have begun to conceive of this behavior as driven by a type of spirit, a second-order system whose muscle and sinew are institutional. A constellation of these spirits animates these conceited interlocutors more than anything one might call individuality. It is the ethereal absence that lurks behind their eyes with which one must truly contend, for the animal stands merely enthralled.

I do not say "animal" to dehumanize anyone. The concern-trolls harrying countless just causes are humans still, worthy of life by virtue of being alive. But being worthy of life does not confer a liberated will. Just as a police dog can be taught to gore with prejudice, spirits can fill the minds of humans, inviting them into depths of evil of which few other species can so much as imagine. Individualism as it is known in the West is a blight upon the individual spirit, for it blinds and deafens and devours until there is nothing left but a shell for ghosts. In the sort of inversion so typical of colonizers, what passes for freedom is fundamentally coercive. We are never given the choice to reject the systematization of atrocity when that system-of-systems dictates the pretext of our lives. (That opportunity can only be seized through force.)

I think about the spirit that animates the disheveled man muttering about the trans demon on the bus. He spits, he threatens violence, but he doesn't have a place to shower. He's hauling garbage bags of cans. He escalates and escalates, growing louder, his threats more graphic. I observe the spirit behind his eyes, and there I witness the little joy he feels from enacting the will of something fleshless, something that rejects what it cannot press into psychic bondage. He has been used and abused, and still his torturers conscript him against my kind for scraps of the shadow of power. An immiserating miasma is all we have to breathe out here.

From him to the salt barrier where the financier-nobility and labor aristocracy meet, the crucible of so-called innovation. There, executives pester me about the validity of my pronouns. It is a waste of everyone's time, but they persist. It is a facile weakness that speaks through them, a spirit of obligation to one's keeper, of the keeper's obligation to control. It is a spirit of a type of manhood, one that constricts and consumes like a python, fueling anger with emptiness. I quit after many months of disgust. Now I can perceive the thread that connected those individuals, the fae alliance that spoke with their mouths. The animals were merely bored, enured to noblesse oblige, to a form of inherited captivity. The zoo of royalty itself.

From them to the man that drugged my water and left me bloody in my own home. May the slavering maws that animated your hunger chew you like gristle for all time.


Aristotle supposed three aspects to persuasion: logos, or logic; ethos, or authority; pathos, or sympathy. An argument lacking in any suffers, though a rhetorician may emphasize one aspect per the predilections of their audience. I have found this model persuasive in itself, though in practice I find little purchase from rhetoric. Measured efforts break like waves upon fortresses of ignorance, and stories of deprogramming fascists are ones of long and bitter struggle. All the while, greater winds sweep up fresh generations to be raised in such brutal foolishness. I have begun to suppose that rhetoric is not what persuades.

Boots Riley argued in a recent interview that America is in a strike wave. He emphasized organizing collective power around material means, around wage increases, health benefits; things people on the edge will experience as direct benefits of radical action. Radical action in the context of a strike wave will mean things like forming a union and hammering out collective contracts, striking as necessary to assert the power inherent to doing the work. This principle has many examples elsewhere: the Black Panthers' Free Breakfast for School Children Program, which shared the literal means of survival under a revolutionary platform; and the program of mutual self defense that Robert F Williams describes in his book Negroes with Guns, which actively prevented lynchings through assertions of martial force. Each demonstrates both the path to serving each other, and the volitions that stand to stop us.

We must be there for each other, you see. We are all that we have, now and forever. That is how you move the people: feed each other, clothe each other, love each other, defend each other. Furthermore, educate each other. There is a reason that half of America's population cannot read at a sixth-grade level, while socialist nations like Cuba boast astonishing literate super-majorities. If we cannot connect to a critical tradition, we cannot situate ourselves among a universe of diverse values; we become easy prey for what makes a home of naïveté.

Larry Kramer in a speech in 2019 said, regarding ACT UP and the AIDS crisis:

Yes, we have lost the fight against AIDS.

It is hard to stand up to the huge portion of the population of American people that hates us. I don't mean dislike — I mean hate. When we started dying, we told “The American People” what was happening to us. But “The American People” didn't do anything. I hope it's finally dawning on you that maybe those American people didn't and don't want to do anything about this.

This may remind you of a sentiment expressed by Kwame Ture:

Dr. King's policy was that nonviolence would achieve the gains for black people in the United States. His major assumption was that if you are nonviolent, if you suffer, your opponent will see your suffering and will be moved to change his heart. That's very good. He only made one fallacious assumption: In order for nonviolence to work, your opponent must have a conscience. The United States has none.

As Settlers makes clear, the United States emerges from a European systematization of settlerism, whose two faces mediate mutual gorging desires for plunder and dominance. Whatever airs it effects, from expanding suffrage as the plunderer Bacon did in his rebellion, to pretenses of social liberalism under a regime of endless war, to how we still depend on slavery, the West remains predicated on a basis of wealth born of and necessitating unconscionable cruelty. To transform that basis would unravel the superstructure that produces America and its ilk.

When we appeal to the American people or any other settler majority, our words pass through the lens of something hungry and wretched. Something so conceited as to name Yosemite after a massacre, something so vicious as to desecrate the Black Hills with the faces of slavers. A monster reaches up through pale mouths, frothing with incoherent rage, drowning in ignorance. It is not any specific settler which must be buried or converted, but that spirit behind the generations of them: the political project of Whiteness, whose lifetime boasts hardly a thousand years. There is no persuading the fettered mind; you must first break the ties that bind. The barking animals of this great monster's horde do not respond to words, not in any way that matters. They speak frivolously about both sides and inconvenient protest, about the humanitarian achievements of the most nightmarish death machine to ever live and walk, about the infeasibility of change and the realism of capitulation. They speak, but cannot hear. Only by destroying the spirit that moves them can these thralls be disarmed and returned to themselves.

Jean-Paul Sartre, in his essay Anti-Semite and Jew, describes the fascist relation to discourse, to words and meaning:

Never believe that anti-Semites are completely unaware of the absurdity of their replies. They know that their remarks are frivolous, open to challenge. But they are amusing themselves, for it is their adversary who is obliged to use words responsibly, since he believes in words. The anti-Semites have the right to play. They even like to play with discourse for, by giving ridiculous reasons, they discredit the seriousness of their interlocutors. They delight in bad faith, since they seek not to persuade by sound argument but to intimidate and disconcert. If you press them too closely, they will abruptly fall silent, loftily indicating by some phrase that the time for argument is passed.

Although Sartre spoke specifically of fascists bent against Judaism, we know fascism has many more enemies than that. It is not an anti-Judaic spirit specifically, this ghost embedded in colonialism; it is something far more gluttonous. It feasts on hierarchy, as though swallowing a pyramid from the base up. Supplicants shovel us into camps with numbers and yellow stars and pink triangles at the behest of what I can only describe as a death god, praying it doesn't simply eat them next – or perhaps they find the possibility unthinkable, for so thoroughly has their deity crippled their mind that they cannot see its dripping teeth lurking at their throat.

I presume you know as well as I that fascism didn't end with the downfall of Nazi Germany. It is a dynamic lurking in a type of empire, the practices of concentration camps and apartheid and extermination brought home from the frontiers of Africa and Asia and America. Some call it a failure mode of liberal democracies; more mechanically, a pressure valve. It is built into these empires, filtering from its heart into the dreams of its faithful. It is the Briton who celebrates refugees drowning at sea; it is the Français who menaces women in hijabs; it is the American who defaces their very neighbor's home with slurs. They do not hear, either.

There are many sorts of fascists, and all of them treat discourse as Sartre describes. It is the likes of socialists that take discourse seriously, as it is a principal medium for connecting to critical traditions, while fascists are happy to treat it as a game. This is not only the young Republican who memes with white supremacist iconography, but also the so-called liberal who considers a just society unrealistic. They reflect the two faces of empire, the plunder and the dominance, one heinous and the other trite. One would as soon enforce the hierarchy with chain-gangs, while the other pretends to mollify their counterpart with means-tested impoverishment. Neither can imagine the end of this colonial regime-of-regimes; it is unthinkable to them by design. They ultimately believe in nothing but their own perpetuity, whatever the cost. Remember that the next time a deadly virus kills millions and both parties cry to go forth and die for the economy.


The phenomena of queerness and neurodivergency, which are defined by the exclusions and prejudices of the kyriarchy, are often described with the word community. The queer community, the autistic community, and so on. And yet I find the word so inappropriate as to be offensive. "Community" in this sense is taxonomical: one is queer by their differences, and is thus by definition a member of the queer community. This membership is meaningless. A community worth the name would stand together in material solidarity. What am I to make of the trans people working at Lockheed, making weapons despite a useless moral consternation? What does their solidarity amount to? What community could we possibly hold? The nonbinary landlord, the lesbian cop – the fiction of our community fosters false consciousness, in which we are brave and transformative whatever our complicity. It will take more bravery than that illusion to threaten the architects of our alienation.

What the kyriarchy fears about queerness in particular is the power to choose. One does not choose to be queer, rather one chooses to live up to their needs, or to die in fear and regret. Where gender and sexuality are used as castes, the freedom to navigate them voluntarily heralds the castes' undoing. Herald though we may, we need more dangerous tools than portents to fell giants. The will to wield your soul like a knife exceeds the body, as I recur and recur across the eons, from the passionate cults of antiquity to the glimmer behind the eyes of a bigot's beloved grandson. So long as the capacity for choice lives in the human animal, I will return to its flesh timelessly. Mangle my body though my enemies may, what I represent cannot be so much as scratched.

So consider my horror, to witness the intersection of Whiteness and the false consciousness of these so-called communities. Too often pale queers turn racist at the merest opportunity, stirring up shit where they have no business, using their own oppression as an excuse to bully people of color. Many times it has been said: white queers are still white. To come out does not evict the spirit of the kyriarchy; it does not kill the cop in your head. You must do that yourself: you must dismantle the violence you were taught and drive it from your very muscles, lest it turn you into yet another cruel limb. These would-be comrades so often cannot hear either. They sup on the shadow of power, lashing out like pus ejected from a popping pimple. These tethered fools are not my community. We share alienation and little else.

I find I must construct my own community. Material solidarity requires hard-won trust, so we band together around values and commit to each other, rising to shepherd our mutual welfare. Institutions reign that have overseen our extermination for centuries; whosoever imagines we might be civilly folded into the ranks of its infernal machinery, situates themselves with my foe. I will not assimilate. I will exceed, I will overcome, I will triumph, until we are all free.


Cis people don't generally understand the significance of transition. It is just so convenient to diminish its traumatic character.

Transition is not just facing down gender dysphoria. No, to step into the tradition of this manifestation is to realize you are part of a thousand-year genocide. Human devils have sought our extermination under various banners for millennia. Their ethereal masters dream of us as sex slaves and torture dolls. It is a puzzle made of pain, to resolve where you stand in the grand stage of one's own life. It doesn't just make you want to start a war with atrocity itself. The war was always here, and it will kill you unless you learn to fight back.

It is bound up in the fabric of the mundane, the hierarchies of gender, the conceptualizations of sex, in wages and rent and law itself. The West's pretensions of pluralism obscure just what vast swathes of people it considers expendable, a resource to be exploited to death, or a nuisance to be wiped out. Its mechanisms are insidious, living like rats in the walls of our own minds. Even now, it is permissible to murder us throughout America's sphere. Soldiers especially have a curious habit of disposing of their lovers, driven by a sense of betrayal given to them by some fleshless predator. Much of America is unsafe for me to exist in. I have no delusions about what gruesome desires lurk in the empire's forsaken heart.

That, on top of the immediate and prolonged shifts in how the world around you decides to treat you. You learn survival by conformity, more than ever before; you learn perception means danger. Your career falls apart. Your love life. Your family. It all comes undone, in different ways. You have to rebuild it, but you'll never get it back. That world was always an illusion, and you along with it. (However, more of you was real than you might think.)

I dream of a world where nobody has to transition. Gender expression is just a well-trod subject included in public consciousness and childhood education alike. Imagine a sex ed course that so much as mentioned puberty blockers. It would save lives. It would save lifetimes of anguish. Nobody has to suffer the wrong adolescence. Nobody has to live under genocide. But that's what transition is: taking action against those conditions. It is not just HRT or surgeries or a wardrobe change, but an awakening to a dimension of incredible violence that swallowed the world before you were even born. Without that, it wouldn't be transition. It would be altogether unremarkable.

I find that cis people rarely grasp the weight of that. To them, transition, as a minor repudiation of gender-as-caste, is a cause for celebration. A protest you can invite your boss and landlord to. They do not grasp how it aligns with and against the superstructure that privileges their ignorance. To recognize that would demand more severe action than is safely conceivable.


The word "civilization" has a damning history. Bastards whose deeds prove they ought to be soil have fought to civilize the world from end to end; famine, plague, war, and death, the hallmarks of their passing. They bring Christ and putrescence. Theirs is not a civilization I can recognize as such. It is the absence of one, a void for barbarians. I hardly feel as though I live in a society at all, when my peers freeze to death by the hundreds each Winter. Fleshless giants call for our blood and the guardians of privation answer eagerly, with unpayable rents, jobs that leave us maimed and worse, and the worst healthcare one still can't afford. The grocer's bins are locked to keep out the starving. This is not civilization.

To me, to the spirits that move me, civilization is something we do for each other. It is the choice to elevate each other beyond fear and need, to secure and steward plenitude for thousands of years. Civilization is a healed femur. Civilization is a bird alighted upon the hand. Civilization is a feast and a song. It is not something that belongs to any species. Our being human does not civilize or uncivilize us, as only our actions can do that. Civilization is a dog learning an intermediary language, and using it to ask how mirrors function. It is dolphins and fisherfolk working together without force or diktat. It is Koko naming kittens.

I would like to live in a civilization. Instead, I seem to live in the rotting carapace of its absence. Decrepit institutions reeking of malice, and people who can neither read nor imagine, enduring a crucible of misery fed with billions of lifetimes at once. To look upon its face is to witness a deity of suffering and envy, glutted upon slavery and genocide for centuries. I was reared in it without any traditions worth the name, a witch abandoned in the imperial murk to be raised on simulacra. Not a tradition of making food, but of resuscitating it; nor of repairing clothes, but of obtaining and discarding them; nor of forming community but the fickle sort of class adjacency. However lengthy our genealogies, we were centuries divorced from any tradition of meaning. My kind goes crazy here; it drives us to suicide, and to things that get us killed. This is not a civilization. It is the pageantry of a killing machine.

A proper civilization does not experience evils like poverty. It shepherds plenitude or it braces the many equally during famine. Food, water, housing, sanitation, healthcare, transportation, the means of computation, and so on, are all essential rights owed without reservation. It is the duty of the civilized to grow these foundations of guest-right that any may partake of them, that the franchise of sapience may be extended to whoever would desire it. A civilization banishes ignorance; it could not imagine feeding upon it.

But the society I was born to is one of voracious incognizance. Am I the mad one, to call it madness? Am I foolish to imagine better? Perhaps it is the fool's aloofness that permits insight. Perhaps it takes madness to realize the unthinkable.


In English, the term "nationalism" tends to imply a rigid and harsh society, defined by an identity however constructed, governed from the barracks. White nationalism in particular renders an unheeled nightmare: that the pale heirs of Christendom might finally purge their stolen lands of their original peoples and all who they pressed into bondage. It imagines a society with nothing but an ethnic aristocracy, in which all other peoples have been excised, disappeared. Except to its boosters, such visions confer a vile quality to the notion of nationalism.

However, there is a derivation of the word which provides me with a cohesive and compassionate vision: plurinationalism. In Bolivia, plurinationalism is the watchword by which distinct nations – particularly indigenous peoples – band together under one state that still honors their differences, and which defers to their privileges as ancestral stewards. This state can then mediate the nations' needs against the tides of the world, managing crude abstractions like borders as well as rebuffing the intercessions of settler powers like the US, who in 2019 backed a coup against the governing pluralist party. Besides desiring the lithium in Bolivia, I believe the US fears how this form of government carries the potential to decolonize the Americas by returning land and power to indigenous peoples. However Westphalian the plurinational state remains, it is a transitory structure to survive the prevailing moment. Someday we will have no more need for borders and their divisive pedants.

Meanwhile, the Zapatistas in Chiapas have established autonomous, borderless governments which fuse indigenous roots with revolutionary knowledge. They accomplished this through an armed conflict with the government of Mexico, through service to the people of the land. It is not right to call them communists or anarchists; in their deeds lives a potent dialogue between such things and spirits that were born on these continents in time immemorial. It is that dialogue that puts tactics to strategy amid the circumstances of the Americas, the plunder and the poverty, the plight of the colonized and the structure of the society that entraps even their brutal masters. In the victories and tribulations of the Zapatistas, I see the seeds of a decolonized Turtle Island: a new era of peace and plenty, flowering from the corpse of the old world.

Of course, plurinationalism is not a word in English. Nor is Zapatismo. However much has been written about them in Spanish, few resources exist in the Anglosphere to understand them. However alike an English term plurinationalism seems, it remains a borrowed idea. Within the English-speaking world, the Anglosphere, we struggle to express ourselves with a dearth of ideas. The contours of privation shape our thoughts, and all the words we lack lend us to deeper ignorance. We are taught to invite our oppression, to suffer it dutifully, to expect no better for no better is conceivable. Watchwords like anarchism and communism, liberalism and socialism, are like waters that wash away the edges of what tools might propel us to liberation. The bite of their steel can only be found through study and reflection and cooperation, not meaningless arguments between people who cannot hear each other. By connecting to a critical tradition, whether literary or oral, we better situate ourselves in the present, and reveal what miasma kept us from understanding. The practical qualities of our circumstances equip us with weapons our keepers cannot imagine. To put it another way, do your homework: it will set you free.


In using words like animal and civilization, I express ideas in ways that cannot be expressed broadly. One knows exactly whom these words are usually weaponized against; it is only within the involved context of this essay that my alternate usage becomes possible. To call someone an animal otherwise is to necessarily dehumanize them, because animals being lesser is a presumption embedded in the pretext of our lives. The alternative is trivially mocked, with self-amusing suggestions of teaching dogs to vote. And to suggest animals are our equals, it reeks of disordered priorities: what inverted values must I possess to prioritize dogs in cages over kids in cages? No, these things are unspeakable not because they are heinous but because they are misunderstood, unable to not be misunderstood, within the psychic poverty of white empire. I find I must break the mold of English to make room for my ineffable thoughts. I find it is not the words that contain the truth.

Look behind ignorant speech and brutal deeds to the systems that produce them, spirits that must be buried for all time for a softer world to grace the light of day. Peer inside yourself for the spirits that move you, to sort them knowingly, casting out the vile and raising up the loving. We are only animals, after all. We are not immaculate reasoning engines, but unwitting hosts to constellations of idea-patterns and culture-ghosts. Unless you are mindful of the currents that have chosen you, they will swallow you whole.

I want us to be small animals together. I want to honor the wilderness of our being, and to live up to the stewardship that we inherit as parts of this planetary biosphere. I want to understand the tension between the wishes of the flesh and the heavens of the mind; I want to live in alignment with spirits of language and love, who together gird a compassionate order.

In me lives the spirit of a softer world, one that adores and cherishes. No cynic can touch its stalwart compassion; neither rapist nor conqueror, its inviolable dignity. I hear its call for the courage to transform, for the will to live up to its values, for the wisdom to kill gods rather than the living. I feel the light of dawn as it breaches the horizon and spills across a verdant metropolis, a nexus of a centerless global polity. A crone gossips with a crow at a cafe, the subtleties of their respective tongues a living artifact shepherded by communities of both species. Many such spirits inhabit us all, and they speak of kinder futures than our capitalist masters would leave for us. Listen to them. The paths they illuminate will be harrowing and merciless, but I tell you: do not allow fear to goad you into a life of regret.


February 4, 2024