How Not To Go Crazy In A Shitty World (Things I Learned From My Anarcho-Communist Boyfriend)

The other day at the beach, I was talking to my boyfriend about the conflict I feel over believing in fat acceptance, on the one hand, and wanting to lose the weight I’ve gained recently, on the other. Still somewhat of a traditional liberal (but increasingly more of a commie, because I adopt the ideology of whoever I’m dating, tee hee jk), I was still clinging onto notions of the personal being political. Society is made up of individuals, after all, and we can change society by changing as many individuals as possible, starting with ourselves, right? Be the change you want to see, and so forth.

My boyfriend replied that he thinks this idea is bullshit. Society is not just a bunch of individuals together, but a special organism all its own. Some people even think there’s this third mode being of being that is the result of the individual and society interacting. (I am totally going to read about that soon.) The idea that there’s any such thing as an authentic and independent “self” that could, or should, be walled off from society is actually kind of ridiculous. And furthermore, we have to live in the world that we have while we work towards the one we want.

“But babe,” I asked. “What if that society is pernicious? What if it’s hurting people and telling them they suck and giving them eating disorders? What then?” His answer, always, as I understand it: change society. And you know what? He had a point. He made me an analogy. (Yes, this is what we talk about at the beach.)

“I’m a libertarian communist,” he said, “I think capitalism is a bad system” (I’m paraphrasing). “For a while I lived in a punk house and barely had a job, because FUCK THAT. But a few years ago, I realized I need to make concessions to the world that I live in and it would be good to have some sort of career, etc.” I know that this is true. When we first started dating, I asked him more annoying questions than Elaine Benes did when she was dating a commie. Did it bother him that he has to buy things using money? Did he have only one shirt? Did he hate having to go to work, etc.? He answered all of them patiently. He’s the most pleasant, well-adjusted communist I’ve ever met, and he has a rational answer to everything. Which is part of how he converted me, actually.

Despite being way more radical than me, my dude is probably about 100 times better at dealing with the things he thinks are shitty. I’ve learned a lot from him over the years, so here are some handy tips I’ve picked up.

1. Don’t put the weight of the world on your shoulders. Keep an eye on the bigger picture.

I’ve often pressured myself to be a perfect feminist, a perfect progressive, and a perfect consumer. In the grand scheme of things, though, it doesn’t matter that much where one person shops. I maintain that it can’t hurt to try to buy things that kill fewer people and animals (I’m still a vegan, after all, because even if it doesn’t make any real impact, FUCK EATING DEAD THINGS), but don’t beat yourself up if you can only afford to shop at Walmart, and not the fair trade coop. Or similarly, if you can’t help feeling compelled to conform to the beauty myth. Or whatever. Real change comes from struggle; you can’t just sit back and shop/individuate your way to a better world. (Which is unfortunate, because I like shopping.)

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    • Nancy

      Jen Dzuira did a good bullish article that relates to this, once. I think it was her… she talked about telling students who were interested in improving society that it’s better to get a career in that society so you’re actually able to change things yourself than to just protest everything you disagree with. Major paraphrasing.
      Anywhooo, this article was actually really comforting for me today. Sometimes you really need someone to put things in perspective…again lol. So thank you! And thank your boyfriend, and by the way he sounds pretty awesome, you probably hold on to him for a while.

    • Brianna

      Loved this article!

    • Tania

      That plant-based food you eat used to be alive before you ate it, too. And studies have shown plants feel pain when they’re killed for food. You should specify “fuck eating dead animals.”

      But then, someone like me would probably come along and say something like “so eating them alive is okay?” ;P

      • Jamie Peck

        Plants have brains and central nervous systems? I had no idea.
        But even if they did, it would still be more humane to eat only plants, because it takes a heck of a lot of plants to produce one pound of meat. Utilitarianism!

      • Tania

        Sponges are animals. Jellyfish are animals. They don’t have brains or central nervous systems. Would you eat them?

    • Kristina

      Oh, yes, yes, yes, this! All the time and forever. This is the most cogent argument for the things I believe and how I practice them. Hate the system, not the people within it. It’s okay to dislike the general practices of a racial-profiling, violent police culture, but it’s really not okay to advocate violence on them. That, in and of itself, is so very hypocritical.

      It’s taken a lot for me to learn to not beat myself up for things, but that is such great advice, too. I remember once wanting desperately to be a vegetarian, but I was lacking so much protein my hair fell out (I was not a smart vegetarian and did not eat beans or other protein-laden, not meat foods), and I kind of had to reintegrate chicken back into my life. I’ve also been so poor and time-strapped that fast food and non-vegetarian things were the only right options for me at the time (or maybe it was an emotional thing), and I would constantly belittle myself for not sticking to my guns. But, like you said, as long as the lines you definitely cannot cross without being hypocritical or otherwise awful remain uncrossed, ease up on yourself a bit.

      I think it might also be useful to add that if you identify with a movement or an idea, you’re not bound forever and ever to it, nor are you bound to the opinions of others involved in that movement or idea. Another feminist can’t tell you how to be a “good” feminist for yourself in your particular social group. Even if Sarah Palin wants to call herself feminist, it’s fine because you don’t really know what she’s relating to. It might be the simple fact that she’s a female in a traditionally-male role. And advocating for that is definitely one of the main ideologies espoused by feminism as a whole, so who are we to say as individuals, “no, she can’t be a feminist, it’s not allowed”?

      I maybe just rambled a lot, but the tl;dr is I really liked this article. It was really calm and collected and kind of just gave an overarching feeling of “give yourself a break”, which is generally awesome to hear.

      • Jamie Peck

        This doesn’t do justice to your long and awesome comment, but I have tips for veg on the cheap, should you want any.

        I do think feminism become meaningless if it has absolutely zero criteria, because words need to mean things. But some people think those criteria should be stricter than others. For instance, I’m willing to admit that the anti sex worker people are feminists (feminists who I think are quite wrong about something), while some sex positive folks might not be.

      • Kristina

        Definitely not going to respond in order because REBELLION.

        First, I agree about feminism (and other movements) needing some basic criteria. I tried to convey that, based on the “ideologies espoused by feminism” part, but I have had a long day at work and caffeine has long strayed from my system. I think that there are some basic ideas that feminism sticks to pretty stringently, and I think there are some people (ahem, Sarah Palin) who very vaguely identify with some of those basic ideas and maybe miss the point. That said, there really isn’t (nor should there be) a feminist police in place to say “no, no, you can’t be in our club, sorry.” Your vague idea of why you’re a feminist may be misguided in some areas, but I can acknowledge that the vague idea is there (such as with the anti-sex worker feminists, who I also think are wrong).

        Second, yes, please, cheap veg tips. I’m employed by the world of social work, and I live in New York. CHEAP IS GOOD. Also, relatedly, can you please write an article about using a rice cooker? Because you made many allusions to your rice cooker in the comments sections of Jennifer’s “Learning to Cook Reluctantly” series, and I want to know of your rice cooker magicking. And other people do, too. Otherwise they do not belong to the JamiePeckTeachesRiceCookery-ism movement I just invented. No JPTRC club t-shirt for them.

    • MK

      so, basically…. your boyfriend is a huge hypocrite. he can “hate everything a person believes in, but still be able to get down with that person”? that’s ridiculous. I don’t “get down” with people that are racist, against gay marriage, fans of ayn rand, or misogynists because if they believe in white superiority/fuck the poor/homos are evil/only whores need birth control, than they’re not people I want to hang out with. people aid and abet the bigotry and prejudices of others by politely looking away from their atrocious beliefs in the interests of “getting down”. sounds like your boyfriend lacks the courage of his convictions.

      • Gab

        I think you missed the point. Do you ONLY talk to people who agree with everything you believe in? If you do, aren’t you just as bad as the racist, anti-gay, etc people you listed? If you can’t even just have a conversation with someone who holds different beliefs then you do, then what’s the point of trying to change things? Do you believe that things will magically change just because you believe in them strongly enough?

      • MK

        things sure aren’t going to change if I politely avoid controversial topics like Jamie Peck’s boyfriend, who apparently has a very conservative bestie with whom he avoids hot-button issues in order to “get along”.

        I can have conversations with them. I can respectfully discuss my viewpoint and listen to the thought processes of those who disagree with him. I cannot, however, “bro out” or “get down” with someone who believes that their beliefs should be enforced on everyone else. Do you think things will magically change if everyone politely ignores the elephant in the room?