Tag Archives: AEWCH

(How To Write) An Autobiography of Ideas – On AEWCH 100!

27 Feb
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Friends,
Here we are at AEWCH 100, and I’m so grateful. To celebrate, I’ve tried to focus on what the show is really about: ideas and connectivity. With that in mind, I’ve written my own Autobiography of Ideas, which I share here, and I also tell you how you can make your own!

The process is pretty simple:
1. Start listing out ideas that have moved you, and their creators.
One of the best ways of doing this is by thinkers or books or bands or movies. These can have had an emotional impact on you, or changed the way you thought about the world, or deepened your commitment to a cause. Whatever you want – just focus on the ideas and who brought them to you. Since a huge part of my life has been spent with my nose in a book, most what you’ll hear about today are people who have written books, but I didn’t by any means restrict myself, as you’ll see.
2. Then, start putting those in the age ranges you encountered them in.
I think 7 year chunks are good (ie 0-7, 8-14, 15-21, 22-28, etc.).

3. Look at the patterns you can find. Try to articulate what they are, and then look across your entire life. When it’s all grouped together, think about what was happening in that time period, and you can start to see the arrival of themes.

4. Name the chunks of time, if you want. They’re chapters in your Autobiography Of Ideas.

NOTE: The important thing is to lean towards the ideas here, not the events, the events will show up, and if you want, you can think of a different way to layer them in.

There are show notes for this episode, but they appear in the form of a list available to patrons at the $5 level and up. Click here for access to the list or sign up/boost your pledge now!
Thank you for listening. Love to you all. Here’s to 100 more!
CH
JM

Conner Habib & David Graeber talk supernatural politics on Against Everyone With Conner Habib 99!

11 Feb
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on Patreon!  Thank you so, so much.
AEWCH99TitleCardFriends,

Few people embody the intersections of this show’s interests quite as much as anthropologist, activist, and writer David Graeber. His field work, writing, and activism represent the best of what AEWCH does: turn an eye to spiritual concerns while taking direct and creative political action. David is a professor at the London School of Economics and the author of an almost overwhelming number of books, including, Fragments Of An Anarchist Anthropology, Debt: The First 5000 Years, On Kings (with Marshall Sahlins), and most recently, Bullshit Jobs: A Theory.

So of course, I’m so happy to have him on the show to discuss, among other things, the supernatural currents that run through and underpin the political realm.
SHOW NOTES
• There’s so much more available from David – introductions to other books, anthologies, he’s edited, and a whole shelf of other books he’s written – so the best way to get a good overview of that is to go to his website. Also, I use some of David’s ideas to discuss the horror film Ready Or Not on the Horror Vanguard podcast, and I think it’s not a bad intro to David’s work.
• Of course, you should check out Marshall Sahlins’s work, and David references his debate with Gananath Obeyesekere.
BM• Grant Morrison’s Bat-Mite appearances are in the amazing Batman arc, The Black Glove which is collected as a graphic novel.
• David’s quote on debt: “Debt is the perversion of a promise, a promise that has been perverted through mathematics and violence. I’m not saying mathematics is bad, but the combination of mathematics and violence is extremely bad. A debt is a promise to give a certain sum of money, in a certain amount of time, under certain conditions. It is a contract that is ultimately enforceable through the threat of force. The problem is that through a genuinely perverse historical alchemy, we’ve come to see such acts of violence as the very essence of morality.”
• One of David’s best known essays is excellently entitled “ON THE PHENOMENOLOGY OF GIANT PUPPETS: broken windows, imaginary jars of urine, and the cosmological role of the police in American culture” and you can read it here.
• “There is a long folk history of this figure, the Badass. He is usually male, and while sometimes earning the quizzical tolerance of women, is almost universally admired by men for two basic virtues: he is Bad, and he is Big. Bad meaning not morally evil, necessarily, more like able to work mischief on a large scale. What is important here is the amplifying of scale, the multiplication of effect.” – Thomas Pynchon, from “Is It O.K. To Be A Luddite?”
Karl Groos was the philosopher and psychologist who David refers to in relation to play, self awareness, and child development, and is the author of The Play Of Man. David explores game and play more deeply in his excellent book, The Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity, and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy.
• Apparently I misattributed the definition of magic to Dion Fortune! But it’s a common mistake.
• I talk a lot about leaning into subjective ways of speaking, and why it’s important, on AEWCH 93 with Sarah Maria Griffin, and on Rune Soup with Gordon White.
• David is currently at work on a book with David Wengrow, author of What Makes Civilization?: The Ancient Near East and the Future of the West among other books.
• The organization I was Vice President of for two years, The Adult Performer Advocacy Committee, is still going, and I’m so proud of my work with them.
• You must have seen The Witch if you’re a fan of this show, right? Right?
• There was a tension (to put it euphemistically) between anarchist Bob Black and Murray Bookchin. You can check it out here.
• I talk about Wilhelm Reich on AEWCH 59 with Reich scholar James Strick.
Was Lenin a nudist? Well, yeah, probably!
• I haven’t yet read David’s “Radical alterity is just another way of saying “reality”: a reply to Eduardo Viveiros de Castro” but I’m going to as soon as I’m done with the show notes.
Heres The Same Old Song by Russell Means. Means’s essay is not actually an essay, for, as he states at the outset, “The only possible opening for a statement of this kind is that I detest writing. The process itself epitomizes the European concept of ‘legitimate’ thinking; what is written has an importance that is denied the spoken.” 
VDJ• I was hugely influenced by Vine Deloria Jr.’s work, and his attack (seriously, that’s more the word for it than “critique”) on anthropologists remains salient. (And since I love him, here’s a photo of him.)
• Here’s more info on Malidoma Somé, and you can also check out his great book, Of Water and the Spirit: Ritual, Magic and Initiation in the Life of an African Shaman.
• I talk all about the problems with reducing the witchcraft to political economy, as well as the figure of the dewitcher on AEWCH 98 with Thomas Waters.
• I still like Giordano Bruno, in spite of the, um, persecution we carry out here. And I think he was just talking about the creation of elementals, which I discuss on AEWCH 67 with Daniel Joseph.
• David brings up his interest in Whitheadian concepts of time and space, which are explored, I think, most deeply in Whitehead’s The Concept Of Nature.
Conor McCabe has a great concept of capitalism as an “invasion of the money system” which we talk about on AEWCH 76. (That remains one of my favorite episodes, btw!)

Until next time, friends!
CH

The victims of witchcraft & the witchcraft of victims. Dr. Thomas Waters joins me on the latest episode of AEWCH!

4 Feb
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This podcast is only possible because listeners like you support it. Do contribute to my mission by supporting Against Everyone With Conner Habib on Patreon!  Thank you so, so much.
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Friends,
I’ve been preoccupied with the way we’ve been preventing witchcraft, the occult, and magic from entering into serious philosophical and political (especially leftist political) discourse for a long time. Previously, witchcraft was the subject of ridicule. Now it’s claimed by Marxists, feminists, and others, as proof of their own theorizing. I’m happy that magic and the occult are being brought into discourse, but always in a way that seems to dismiss the phenomenon itself. So I invited Thomas Waters, author of the incredible Cursed Britain: A History of Witchcraft and Black Magic in Modern Times to talk about all of this. His book is the nail in the coffin of magical revisionism.
Thomas’s book looks at witchcraft from the 1800s to the present day in the UK and its colonies, but most importantly, it does so from a victim’s point of view. In other words, it starts with a serious angle, and stays with it. Along the way, you meet a host of weird and powerful figures, as well as tragedies, atrocities, and absurdities. And our conversation follows a similarly varied path. This is definitely one of my favorite episodes, and it serves as a companion to my conversational, informal episode “The Left Vs Witches.”
Most importantly, I think, we discuss the need for people who can thoughtfully interpret instances of witchcraft and magic in our time. The disappearance of these “dewitcher” figures has left us lost. These dewitchers use witchcraft as a way of seeing, and can teach that way of seeing to us.
I was happy, also, to get Thomas to express how his research into witchcraft changed him, and I’m sure he was happy to get me to talk about challenges to my academic research project.
Oh, and Thomas recites Wordsworth’s “Song For The Spinning Wheel” in the most soothing and mystery-filled voice!
In this episode
  • Witchcraft, belief, and placebo
  • The ways we dismiss witchcraft even as we admit it into “serious” conversation
  • Witchcraft as a first and last resort
  • Why witchcraft is not simply a tool of the disenfranchised but of people in power, too
  • The importance of dewitchers as people who sort through the bullshit & truth, the safety & dangers of witchcraft
  • Witchcraft as a way of reading, as a way of seeing
  • How disbelief in magic is colonialism
  • Why Thomas became interested in witchcraft
SHOW NOTES
• For more on Thomas, visit his page at Imperial College, which features links to articles and other projects. And if the episode wasn’t convincing enough, read this thoughtful review of Cursed Britain in the Times Literary Supplement.
• I mention the fact-filled (though perhaps theoretically unsatisfying) book Paranormal America: Ghost Encounters, UFO Sightings, Bigfoot Hunts, and Other Curiosities in Religion and Culture written and edited by Bader, Mencken, and Baker. It’s definitely worth reading.
• A great and harsh article on the appropriation of witchcraft for feminist revisionism is by Diane Purkis – “Managing Our Darkest Hatreds And Fears: Witchcraft From The Middle Ages To Brett Kavanaugh”
• I talk about capitalism, time, and magic on AEWCH 76 with Conor McCabe.
• Thomas mentions the book Witches and Neighbors: The Social and Cultural Context of European Witchcraft by Robin Briggs, and it sounds great.
• Yes, she was linked to a secret police force.
• I highly recommend reading On Kings by David Graeber and Marshall Sahlins.
DF• My favorite (and the most fun!) book on the Satanic Panic in the US is called, appropriately, Satanic Panic: Pop-Cultural Paranoia in the 1980s. It’s filled with photos, drawings, and is a great read-a-bit-a-day book. 
• If you don’t follow Hookland on twitter, I suggest you check them out ASAP. They’re great.
• Thomas writes a lot about Dion Fortune’s book Psychic Self-Defense, but I think the best place to start with Fortune’s work is either The Esoteric Orders and Their Work or The Secrets Of Dr. Taverner (which is fiction but based on Fortune’s own life). Both books are excellent introductory books to the occult.
• I haven’t yet visited the Museum of Witchcraft, and I really really really want to. Anyway, until I get there, maybe you can go and I can live vicariously through you?
AEWCH 46 with paranormal researchers Greg & Dana Newkirk remains one of my favorite episodes of the show.
• And check out The AntiWitchby Jeanne Favret-Saada for a good ethnography of dewitchers. And her first book, which Thomas gives a rave review to, is Deadly Words: Witchcraft in the Bocage.
Running with the Fairies: Towards a Transpersonal Anthropology of Religion by Dennis Gaffin is a compassionate and fun ethnography on the fairy faith in Northern Ireland.
Until next time, witches,
XO
CH

The Greatest Stripper Occult Priestess You’ve Never Heard Of! Diana Young-Peak on AEWCH 97!

21 Jan
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Friends,
I’m so excited to introduce you to my friend, and one of my spiritual teachers and comrades, Diana Young-Peak, a priest of The Church Of The Living Christ, Order Of Melchizedek. This episode was part of my first try at starting a podcast, way back in 2011, which is also when I recorded AEWCH 91 with Lynn Margulis.
The Order is small, dates back to the 19th Century, and is almost completely unknown. And yet, it continues to resonate with power and depth, through Diana’a wisdom and work, as well as the work of her spiritual partner, Robert Young.
Each month, The Order holds services in the Bay Area, around a theme, with a presentation of Diana and Robert’s mediations and contemplations. Then there’s discussion, and then a ritual. It’s a simple and beautiful service. And it’s informed by Diana’s experience of being in contact with a spiritual landscape and spiritual beings.
The Order has an interesting history, but even more enthralling in Diana’s history, as a stripper who was contacted by a spiritual being she felt she had been prepared her whole life to meet, starting with her dreaming/astral projection as a child where she encountered people from the Bible.
Diana has been a wonderful and warm light in my life, and I’m so happy to share her efforts and wisdom with you.
SHOW NOTES
• For information on The Church Of The Living Christ, Order Of Melchizedek, reach out to Diana or Robert, who runs the Order with her
Robert W. Young, O.M.: robwyoung@mindspring.com
Diana G.B. Young-Peak, O.M.: dgbyoung@aol.com
• Here’s the Order’s description:
“Founded in Great Britain in 1939, by Grace Hooper Pettipher, Ph.D., D.D., it continues today to practice a metaphysical understanding of universal unity and transcendent spiritual nature, sharing a philosophy that is beyond the limitations of evolutionary religion.
We are an inclusive congregation honoring the many paths and faiths by which we may travel to the realization of the One.  For us, the great mystery of the Divine is within, accessible through the realization of the Christ, the true self and eternal Being at the heart of Humankind. This Christ self is eternally one with the Creator Parent, beyond gender, a Being both immanent and transcendent, everywhere present within Creation, yet surpassing it, being That from which it arises.
The white-gold blood of spiritual communion fills the chalice of our sacred celebration, and the substance of divine presence is the nourishment we are offered as the bread of life. “
Screen Shot 2020-01-21 at 3.45.58 PM• There’s very little public information available about Grace Hooper Pettipher (pictured here), but she is mentioned briefly in Beyond The Occult by Colin Wilson, via a story about UFO researcher Jacques Vallee. You can also read her book (if you can find it!), Philosophy of Reality.
• If you’re interested in the Saint Germaine Foundation, and their spiritual path of I AM (which is very different than the path laid out by Grace/Diana) here’s their site.
The Esoteric Orders and Their Work by Dion Fortune is a wonderful book, and if you’re interested in the occult landscape, you should read it.
• I talk more about my experience at Occult Emporium on AEWCH 62.
Until next time!
CH
(me just before doing a ritual with the Order)
2012-02-20 08.48.51

Why do nuns become human traffickers? AEWCH 96: On the atrocities of the Catholic church with journalist Caelainn Hogan.

14 Jan

AGAINST EVERYONE WITH CONNER HABIB 96: CAELAINN HOGAN or

THE CHURCH AND HUMAN TRAFFICKING

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Friends,

It was inevitable that, living in Ireland, I’d have to confront the power and atrocities of the Catholic church. Not because I don’t have a feeling of respect for the church (though I was raised without religion), and not because I’m an atheist (obviously!), but because the pain and suffering the church and its influence have caused Irish people is immeasurable. But I didn’t know where to start, until I came across the work  of journalist Caelainn Hogan, who has written a stunning and profoundly moving book on the mother-and-baby homes in Ireland, which imprisoned women who were pregnant outside of marriage, and took their children away from them. Often, the children died of malnourishment or illness or mistreatment, and were subsequently thrown into mass graves, never to be identified. Many of those who survived are still searching for their families. Caelainn’s book, Republic Of Shame: Stories from Ireland’s Institutions for ‘Fallen Women’, is a book of both sorrow and accountability, as well as a piercing analysis of great power.

This is a haunting episode, as well as one that moves in and out of biopolitics, state control, patriarchy, and religious vision. I’m so happy to share it with you.

On this episode:

  • What are the mother-and-baby homes, how are they different from the Magdalene laundries, and how did they arise
  • When did nuns lose their way and how does that echo the tensions women have with each other generally?
  • What do we do about human trafficking if we don’t want to support a punitive and carceral system?
  • Do we amplify or exploit the suffering of the world by writing about it?
  • Why writing and telling stories isn’t always cathartic.
  • How abuse shatters and reshapes reality.
  • How legal transparency and overcoming shame are linked.
  • How fascism and neoliberalism prop each other up.
  • Why nobody owns a cause.

SHOW NOTES

• For more on Caelainn, visit her website, which has links to her writing, including her excellent essays on direct provision in Ireland, as well as love and everyday life in sickness and in health in war-torn Syria.

• I, like many people, confused the mother-and-baby homes for the Magdalene laundries, which you may have heard of first from Joni Mitchell.

• There are conservation efforts to preserve the Irish workhouses, and to not let them fall out of Irish history.

• My episode with Mona Eltahway, muslim feminist activist and writer, AEWCH 50, is now nearly-infamous, so check it out if you haven’t already.

Calvary• Here’s AEWCH 87 guest Una Mullaly linking the mother–and-baby homes to the abortion laws (now modified) in Ireland.

Calavary is, I think, a great movie about some of the tangles we discuss in this episode. It doesn’t address any of them directly, but it shows one side of the religious tensions in Ireland.

• I wrote about shame and how to fight it — as well as Amber Hollibaugh and Edward Carpenter — here.

Here’s the Sally Rooney interview by Eleanor Wachtel on one of my favorite podcasts, Writers and Company.

• The Walter Bejamin line is “The Messiah comes not only as the redeemer, he comes as the subduer of Antichrist.”

• Caelainn’s chilling warning, “the church thinks in centuries rather than in our current time,” will  stay with me.

• Here’s the Eliza Griswold essay, “The New Front Line of the Anti-Abortion Movement” that Caelainn mentioned.

• A great book that examines the conjunction of neoliberalism and fascism is Srećko Horvat‘s Poetry from the Future: Why a Global Liberation Movement Is Our Civilisation’s Last Chance. I urge you all to read it.

Until next time friends,
CH

MABH

“Reverb-ing all of human existence.” A conversation with author Maggie Nelson on AEWCH 95!

7 Jan
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Friends,
What a way to start the year, with author, teacher, and intellectual, Maggie Nelson. Maggie Nelson is the author of so many deep and potent books, including The Argonauts, about art and politics and the body, including her partner Harry Dodge’s experiences of gender and culture. She is also the author of two books about her aunt’s murder, The Red Parts: Autobiography of a Trial and Jane: A Murder, as well an incredible book about violence in art, The Art of Cruelty: A Reckoning. She was awarded a MacArthur in 2016 and is one of the most important  intellectuals of our time (though perhaps she’d reject that label!). 
This is an extremely wide ranging episode, as I’d expect from a conversation with Maggie, whose books move in and out of hundreds of different thinkers and artists, translating her encounters with them into a new kind of light. I love her writing.
I’m so proud to share this conversation with you.
We talk about (among other things):
  • Passion as an affirmation against materialism
  • Escorting as permission for desire
  • Why frustrated desire might be worse than death
  • The value of losing your self
  • Why a shrug against danger matters
  • Thoreau, Emerson, and being a good artist or a bad prism
  • The shapes and lives of art
  • The uses of occult perspectives
  • The ruse of the anti-social
  • Wittgenstein and the music of the spheres
  • The uses, rituals, and boundaries of seeing violence 
  • Why porn literacy is dumb
  • Bodhisattva vows

SHOW NOTES

• For more on Maggie, you can read some of her poetry here. Here’s a video featuring panel of people (including Maggie) talking about Maggie’s book, The Argonauts. And here is a great conversation between Maggie and her friend (and AEWCH 44 co-guest with Kelly Link!) Jordy Rosenberg in Out Magazine.
• Maggie mentions her partner Harry’s forthcoming book, My Meteorite: Or, Without the Random There Can Be No New Thing. You can preorder it now, and it looks great.
• Maggie and I were both provoked and interested in Testo Junkie: Sex, Drugs, and Biopolitics in the Pharmacopornographic Era by Paul Preciado (a dream guest for the show!)
• My essay on having sex at rest areas, “Rest Stop Confidential” feels a bit outdated now, but it’s still good, I think.
• John O’Donohue’s book, Beauty: The Invisible Embrace, is one of the most beautiful books ever written.
EKS• Please look into the work of the amazing critical theorist, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick who Maggie studied with. A good place to start is Epistemology of the Closet or Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire.
• The Rudolf Steiner verse, which you can try reciting inwardly, too, to see how it feels:
More radiant than the Sun
Purer than the snow
Subtler than the ether
Is the Self
The spirit within my heart
I am that Self.
That Self am I.
• The Emerson quote is: “It is not words only that are emblematic; it is things which are emblematic. Every natural fact is a symbol of some spiritual fact.”
• Helen Keller’s mysticism informed her politics and her work in the world. You can read about in in her book Light In My Darkness.
• Maggie’s quote, “I think I give in the writing, mostly, but also as a teacher, and just by being. I don’t think of it as “giving back” per se. And mentoring doesn’t always mean holding someone’s hand. It’s often just by example… We can be for each other beacons of possibility. Often that’s the most important thing.” set me to thinking so much about being a beacon that I spoke about it at length on Rune Soup 195 with Gordon White. I also talk about speaking poetically on there, as well as on AEWCH 93, with Sara Maria Griffin.
• I haven’t yet read the book Maggie mentioned, The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study, by Stefano Harney and Frank Moten, but I am going to, now. It sounds so good.
• The dead spiritual teacher I prayed to for guidance after being exposed to violence on the guy’s phone, Daskalos, who I talk about at length with his student (a spiritual teacheDr in his own right), Daniel Joseph, on AEWCH 67.
Narrow Rooms by James Purdy is one of the most extraordinary novels I’ve ever read. Read it.
• A good quote on violence from Italian anarchist Errico Malatesta: “(Violence), by its very nature, to suffocate the best sentiments of man, and to develop all the antisocial qualities, ferocity, hatred, revenge, the spirit of domination and tyranny, contempt of the weak, servility towards the strong.”
• You can look at some of Tala Madani‘s work on the 303 Gallery website, including an excerpt of “The Audience” which Maggie talks about at some length.
• I loved talking with Franco “Bifo” Berardi on AEWCH 83 about the challenge of white noise.
• Maggie brings up the amazing British artist Sara Lucas. You can watch a conversation between the two of them here.
That’s it, folks, but it’s a lot, isn’t it?
Until next time!
XO
CH
TM

“Light Table” by Tala Madani

Against Everyone With Conner Habib 92: On The Origins Of Sex

5 Dec

AEWCH92TitleCard

AGAINST EVERYONE WITH CONNER HABIB 92
THE ORIGINS OF SEX or LIFE SUPERLIVES

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Friends,

To keep going with the themes of symbiosis from AEWCH 91, I thought I’d  present my short essay series on the origins of sex, Life Superlives, as an episode. The gist of it is this – what are the bacterial origins of sex, and what can we learn about our lives today from these scientific origin stories?

Rather than present show notes as usual, I’ve reproduced the original essays here, along with a bibliography below.

Enjoy this solo episode! Back to the conversations next week.

XO
CH

Sun1. Sex in the Gaze of the Sun

For all the problems that accompany sex in our lives — shame and fear, jealous lovers, unplanned pregnancies, STIs — one might be surprised that, according to the scientific narrative, sex began as a healing act which diverted crisis.

Once upon a time, billions of years ago, the Sun’s violent and ultraviolet rays cascaded over an ozone-less Earth, greeting the only lifeforms with harsh light. These were the bacteria; prokaryotes, so named for their lack of nuclei (pro = before, karyon = nut or core).

These beings arose only to dissolve in the radiated presence of light.  They already had a way to repair themselves, or life would have never survived its bright beginning. Their DNA — the double-stranded molecule that many of us know about but that scientists still have trouble understanding — had begun to replicate itself through a series of gestures from various enzymes. If one part of a DNA strand was damaged, it was amputated by an enzyme that could cut the DNA bonds apart (a nuclease), and then another enzyme arrived to create wholeness and heal the void.

In the gaze of the Sun, the tiny prokaryotic innards were often too damaged to recombinate on their own. So these beings reached, in the mordial soup, for the ejected DNA of their dead kin, the floating pieces of bodies amongst them. They used their own enzymes in conjunction with the dead to repair themselves.

This was the beginning of sex for living organisms.

It was a co-mingling of partners. The Sun was there first. It aroused the prokaryotes, initiated sex, and then the presence of the dead infused the living with a new possibility for life.

Experiments today that replicate ultraviolet early-Earth intensities prompt similar responses in bacteria.

Life’s first sexual partner was a star.

That also means that by evolutionary implication, our first sexual partner was a star. The ancestors of all our ancestors undulated across the Earth, under a pulsing sexual sphere.

As children, we stare at the Sun, and it blots out our perception. As adults, we know better. When we look at the Sun, we turn away, flushed. It remains a flirtatious, sexual glance cast upon an unbearably beautiful face.

PromoImage2. The Orgy Against Identity

Life threads through the world, not just living, but superliving, creating more life and more possibilities for what life can be. Every individual has within itself the potential to change, utterly, all potentials.

First, bacteria and the Sun embraced over vast distances, and created sex. After sex was created, different forms of sex were possible.

Bacterial sex can take the form of gene-swapping on a “lateral” level. In other words, genes flow freely from bacterium to bacterium, breaking from an initial host and finding their way into another.

If this happened in humans, “…a man with red hair and freckles might wake up, after a swim with a brunette and her dog, with brown hair and floppy ears.”

Because of their freely exchanged genes, bacteria are engaged in the largest and most continuous orgy of all time.

Or maybe it’s microscopic self-love. It depends on how you define bacterial species:

“(Since) all strains of bacteria can potentially share all bacterial genes, then  strictly speaking, there are no true species in the bacterial world. All bacteria are one  organism, one entity capable of genetic engineering on a planetary or global scale.”

Look closely at the world, and you will see that life defies scale: Are the tiniest organisms really just the largest organism alive, spreading across the planet and into its pores, a giant body with infinite organs? Life superlives.

In another form of bacterial sex, conjugation, a “donor” bacterium transfers genetic material into a “recipient.” The ordinary terms are biological sex — “male” and “female” — are useless in the underlying current of life: hen the donor transfers its genetic material to the recipient, it loses its donor characteristics, and the recipient receives them. Bacteria fuck their identities into each other.

Look closely, again, at the world. You will see the slippage of identity.

dali3. Carnal Incarnations

Life was born, and it superlived.

Early organisms brushed up against each other, and when they did, they consumed each other. But not always. Encounter after encounter between them gave rise to a new form of union: symbiosis.

Here’s an example. Imagine a tiny, ancient oxygen-respiring bacterium. Small, but hungry, it was  was a fierce predator. Now imagine a larger, blobbier organism – a thermoplasm, contracting and expanding itself through its shapeless life. The two come together again and again, usually leading to the thermoplasm being invaded and eaten from the inside out by its smaller relative. But not every invasion killed the thermoplasm, and soon – how? We don’t know – the invader organism was taken up by the invaded, incorporated into its being. Permanently.

The thermoplasm could now resist the death-bringing properties of oxygen, and the bacterium found rest from the hunt.

Symbiosis is the ultimate procreative sex act. Two beings merge and form a third. Not a separate being, but a reincarnation of both selves.

Symbiosis is the origin of all multicellular organisms, and likely one of the main motivators of the rise of new species.

Symbiosis is sex, super-sexing.

This creative act is the foundation of human life. Let me explain.

Many protoctists (usually mislabeled “protozoans” – there is no “zoo” in them, since they aren’t animals) like the thermoplasm, reproduce through cell division, also called mitosis, in which an organism copies its own DNA and then pulls itself in two. A startling feature of mitosis is that, even though it’s called cell “division,” it doesn’t actually divide the number or chromosomes, structures in the cell that bear many of the cell’s genes.

In the procreative variety of sex that humans have, sperm and egg cells merge to create a new being. Sperm cells and egg cells have only half the chromosomes compared to the other cells in human beings. When sperm and egg meet, each carries a complimentary half of those chromosomes. This is how sperm and egg meet and form a new being. Rather than dividing (mitosis) humans are created by compliment (meiosis).

Our cells have forms that are meant to meet. They await each other. In other words, human beings are formed through a sort of predestined symbiosis.

Look at your hands, now. They are composed of cells upon cells, grouped together in the whorls and arches of your skin, the bones beneath, the connecting tendons. Your hands are a gathering of cells. And those cells are the ancient agreements of bacteria.

Sex is us. It’s what makes our cells, it’s what made us capable of making new forms of sex and new beings.

And it’s more than just us.

From its inception, sex has been a meeting of forces far beyond bodies and desires.

LC4. Sex Before Life

We end this series with a story from before the beginning.

Once upon a time,

biology tells us,

Before bacteria…

Before the superliving hypersex of symbiosis…

Before life…

the Earth was teeming with bonds of sugars, phosphates, and nitrogenous substances.

These bonds, or ribonucleic acid (RNA), huddled into themselves, and stretched their ways throughout the surface of the planet.

For these molecules, language was form. When they encounter each other, they strained to understand each other through strange acts of translation. They wrapped themselves up into each other, and this act of language, this braiding of being, created new forms.

A mysterious correspondence: an exchange of material, packed with meaning. This was the exuberant world full of RNA, and this was the birth of sex.

This story provides us with a new and sideways answer to the old question of chicken and egg. Did two chickens having sex make the fertilized egg from which another chicken sprung?

Or did the first chicken spring from a pre-existing egg?

When we look into the origins of sex, we discover an unexpected truth.

Q. Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

A. Sex.

Sources

Margulis, Lynn and Dorion Sagan. Microcosmos: Four Billion Years of  Microbial Evolution. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.

Margulis, Lynn and Dorion Sagan. Origins of Sex: Three Billion Years of Genetic Recombination. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990.

Margulis, Lynn and Dorion Sagan. What Is Sex? New York: Simon and Schuster, 1998.

Serres, Michel. Variations on the Body. Minneapolis: Univocal, 2012.