Interview with Mickey Z.

I manage a restaurant in DC where I’m often baffled by the presence of people like Senator “Joe-mentum” or former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Night after night of making sure the sons and daughters of CEOs and Saudi oil barons get their grilled salmon on time can be a bitter pill to swallow. However, on two nights last week I had a subversive secret: whenever I had a moment I would sneak back to the office and tend to my email interview with my hero, and under-read American mischief maker, Mickey Z. The following is the result of our somewhat spontaneous interview.

Maxwell Black: Call me cynical, but I have a sinking suspicion that the US occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan are permanent. Even if Cindy Sheehan were to self-immolate on the White House lawn, I don’t think it would make a difference. Do you think there is any real reason to believe there is an end in sight?

Mickey Z: Well, things tend to be permanent…until they end. I’m sure some confluence of events will impact the durability and/or feasibility of the US occupation. I’m also pretty sure those events will not involve anything that we call “activism” today.

MB: Since we acknowledge that there is certain amount of futility to the anti-war movement, would activist’s time and effort be better served on other projects? I’m not saying we should abandon the cause, but perhaps it could be fought along side a broader cause like say a revived Global Justice Movement.

MZ: We clearly need new ideas, new methods, and a new focus. The most insane part about me trying to answer this question is this: If I discuss tactics that could be slightly misconstrued by the powers-that-be, I risk serious trouble. For now, I’ll suggest folks read both volumes of Endgame by Derrick Jensen.

MB: Speaking of Jensen and “tactics that could be misconstrued by the powers that be”. In his work Endgame volumes 1 and 2 he makes a great effort to smash the ideology of pacifism. One of his premises is “love does not imply pacifism.” He explains that it’s just the opposite — you fight for and protect what you love. He gives examples like a mother grizzly naturally protecting her cub, fighting back against domestic abusers, Indians fighting for their land and so on. If we apply Chomsky’s idea of universality — that what is moral (or immoral) in one setting should be considered in other settings — do we have moral dilemma? What I mean is what if “what you love” (or think you love) is Capitalism, slavery or unearned privilege?

MZ: If I randomly walked up to a man, kicked him in the nuts, and then smashed his face down onto my rising knee, I’d justifiably be vilified as a dangerous sociopath. If that same man was brutally attacking someone I loved (or anyone, for that matter) — perhaps even with a weapon — and I came along on the scene and promptly acted out the above scenario, would I still be a sociopath? The trouble is, once you give anyone “permission” to anyone to use force, they often abuse it. No easy answers for sure. Maybe Malcolm X said it best: “We are nonviolent with people who are nonviolent with us.”

MB: Nice. We often hear about Israel’s “existential threat” or that the “terrorists” want to “wipe Israel off the map” all the while they are in fact expanding. The only place that is being “wiped off the map” is Palestine. Can you put the conflict into context for people that are not familiar with or are confused about, the situation?

MZ: Well, they’re not called the “occupied territories” for nothing (insert rimshot here). Check your Cowboys and Indians history for a little context. Of course, if US taxpayers weren’t funding the Israeli war machine to the tune of multiple billions, Israel wouldn’t be in position to occupy anything. By the way, Israel is not the only oppressive power to learn from American History. Allow me to quote Ward Churchill: “Hitler took note of the indigenous people of the Americas, specifically within the area of the United States and Canada, and used the treatment of the native people… the policies and processes that were imposed upon them, as a model for what he articulated as being…the politics of living space. In essence, Hitler took the notion of a drive from east to west, clearing the land as the invading population went and resettling it with Anglo-Saxon stock… as the model by which he drove from west to east into Russia — displacing, relocating, dramatically shifting or liquidating a population to clear the land and replace it with what he called superior breeding stock… He was very conscious of the fact that he was basing his policies in the prior experiences of the Anglo-American population… in the area north of the Rio Grande River.”

MB: Latin America seems to be moving very rapidly to the Left, led in part by Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez. Do you see what’s going on in Venezuela as a legitimate Democratic revolution or, as critics claim, just another “authoritarian socialist dictatorship?”

MZ: I love the way Chavez mocks the US but there are countless cautionary tales to consider. When the World’s Only Superpower turns its military and economic might against a particular nation (read: Third World nation desperate to break away from the IMF-World Bank-WTO scheme of things), the leader of that nation might get a little paranoid and power crazy (see: Castro, Fidel). It would have been fascinating to witness what might have come of such revolutions had the Land of the Free not done everything in its power to strangle them all at birth.

MB: Your website‘s subheading, “Cool Observer,” comes from a quote by Reinhold Niebuhr (I thought it was Walter Lippman.) “Rationality belongs to the cool observer” who must recognize “the stupidity of the average man” and provide “emotionally potent oversimplifications” that will keep (what Lippman did say) the “bewildered herd” on a proper course. I get an obvious sense of sarcasm and defiance with your use of it. Do you think that maybe it is possible for ordinary people, free from propaganda and coercion, to be able to think for themselves and manage their own affairs?

MZ: You’re one of few people to tell me they “got” my blog’s name. I sometimes wish I called it “Urban Caveman” but after nearly four years of drawing millions — I mean, hundreds — to my little corner of the Web, it’s too late to change the name now. As for your question: do I think it’s possible? Sure. Can I say for sure? Of course not. But after all these centuries of hierarchy and injustice and greed, wouldn’t it be fun to find out? Besides, what have we got to lose… except war, famine, religion, disease, environmental devastation, Reality TV, and all that other nasty stuff?

MB: So the dog and pony show is now in full swing, do you intend to vote?

MZ: I might vote for Ralph Nader or Cynthia McKinney… just for the hell of it.

MB: Again, this being an election year, we hear a lot of calls to “take the country back” or talk of returning to some former greatness. In the “Disinformation” anthology
Abuse Your Illusions you argued in your “Our Back Pages” essay that not only were the “good old days” not so golden, but that the “good old days” mythology is actually somewhat dangerous to our current struggles. Can you give readers a brief taste of what you were trying to accomplish with this piece?

MZ: The danger inherent in the Good Old Days (GOD) myth is two-fold. Like all myths, its mere existence makes other illusions easier to swallow. If the GOD invention is accurate, the wars fought, the businesses started and subsidized, the legislation passed, the culture created, and the leaders elected in the GOD get a free ride on its coattails. We become a nation of people gazing backward for innocence lost rather than looking ahead for lessons learned. This is the second danger of the GOD fiction: disempowerment. By accepting that “the greatest generation any society has ever produced” roamed the earth some 50 to 70 years ago, we surrender new ideas and embrace whitewashed nostalgia. The answers, we acknowledge, are found in the past; all we have to do is slam on the brakes and throw our SUVs in reverse. A valuable step in fostering a more forward-thinking approach would be to expose the GOD for what they were-a mixed bag of good and not so good-like all such “days.” If we don’t buy into the mythology, it’s harder to convince us that most or all the solutions lie in the past.

MB: You made a similar effort to disabuse readers of historical illusions about World War Two in your books There is No Good War: The Myths of World War II and Saving Private Power: The Hidden History of “the Good War.” In addition to busting the mythology of theses historical moments you talked about the propaganda of omission. Can you tell us why this is important and how it applies to today?

MZ: As you read this, civilians are dying in Iraq and Afghanistan — the direct outcome of a US military intervention. Perhaps soon, we will add Iran to that bloody list. With rare exceptions, none of us really want to kill our fellow humans. But history makes evident that virtually anyone can be manipulated not only into supporting such slaughter, but also participating. It begins with spin. Despite the current “war on terror” façade and election-year hype, not much about American war propaganda has changed since “the good old days” (except the technology)… and beneath the posturing and pontificating even less has changed September 11, 2001. “War on terror” rhetoric aside, it remains true that U.S. wars and interventions are skillfully packaged and sold and the official history of those conflicts is subject to spin and distortion. These realities exist in order to portray our leaders — of either party — as moral and lay the foundation for future military ventures.

MB: I grew up in the northern VA suburbs and after traveling quite a bit, realize I could have grown up in thousands of suburbs all over the country and had a nearly identical experience. It turns out Joe Bageant’s idea of the “American Hologram” is very accurate and uniform. You seem to have had a very different experience in “The Peoples Republic of Astoria.” You write with a real sense of warmth of community toward your “homeland.” What’s the relationship between you and Astoria?

MZ: As much as I’m probably displaying irrational chauvinism toward my “homeland,” I genuinely appreciate having grown up in a true “neighborhood,” one in which you walk to get where you’re going and thus meet people — a staggering ethnic diversity, btw — face to face and create bonds. Astoria is where one can live in New York City without Manhattan’s skyscrapers and maddening pace (just 10 minutes away by subway). I wouldn’t want to have grown up anywhere else and I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else right now.

MB: You are a committed Vegan activist. Off the top of your head, what would you say to someone who is on the fence about becoming a vegan?

MZ: I would mention that 14 times as many people could be fed by using the same land currently reserved for grazing and a main reason for global rain forests disappearing is to make way to raise doomed cattle. I would also mention that because our digestive tract is too long to efficiently digest meat, that pork chop can sit there putrefying for weeks. Accordingly, Americans consume more laxatives than anyone else. Think about it: almost all our legislative, judicial, health-related and military decisions are being made by constipated old men. Yes, by going vegan, you can save the planet from constipated old men.

MB: Yikes. Not every town has a Whole Foods or a nifty farmers market and in towns with those things not everyone can afford them. What advise would you give to someone who wants to switch to an Organic Vegan diet but can’t afford to do so or just isn’t sure where to start?

MZ: Complex question. I’ve often heard that veganism is an elitist lifestyle but it’s really a matter of economic priorities. If you’re committed to the ethical, environmental, and health benefits of being a vegan, you’ll find ways to afford the slightly higher price of such food. Of course, if we taxpayers weren’t already subsidizing the meat and dairy industries, those death foods would be far more expensive. Lastly, those who consume the standard American diet because it seems cheaper are far more likely to be stuck with astronomical health care bills. These are simplified answers but the main point is that most Americans can go vegan tomorrow if it mattered enough to them.

MB: I want to end with advice for activists. Your book The Murdering of My Years: Artists and Activists Making Ends Meet is a collection of testimonies by activists struggling to make ends meet in an uphill battle against seemingly insurmountable odds. Since we talked about Derrick Jensen earlier, why don’t we close with this, I’m going to give you three words to do whatever you want with. Just address them to current or would be activists. Here they are: hope, despair and agency. Go.

MZ: The best (worst?) illustration of “hope” is on display every four years when those seeking social change put their capacity for critical thought on the shelf and actively support the Democratic Party. No matter which party wins, “despair” comes next as the latest figurehead of empire proceeds to do everything in his (her?) power to roadblock all avenues toward peace, justice, and solidarity. “Agency” belongs to those willing to disrupt their comfortable (sic) lives and dedicate themselves to stopping things like global warming, US military interventionism, economic exploitation, factory farming, environmental devastation, etc… by any means necessary. The humans (all living things) that come after us won’t care if we did interviews like this or marched in protests or held open doors for little old ladies, if they have no clean air to breathe. It won’t matter if we ate organic or drove a hybrid or switched to recycled toilet paper, if they have no clean water to use. They won’t care if we voted for Obama or McCain or Hillary, if they end up stuck on a toxic, uninhabitable planet.

There’s no shortage of hope or despair on Earth. When it comes to agency, we’re definitely in a recession.

Maxwell Black is a working class internet agitator from Arlington VA. He can be reached at: Read other articles by Maxwell, or visit Maxwell's website.

12 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. joed said on April 26th, 2008 at 5:17am #

    How sad to hear Z say,
    “MZ: We clearly need new ideas, new methods, and a new focus. The most insane part about me trying to answer this question is this: If I discuss tactics that could be slightly misconstrued by the powers-that-be, I risk serious trouble. … .”
    when what is needed is courage (and sacrifice and a bit of hardship.)
    what a cowardly lot you amerikans are. if you continue to let the govt turn you into criminals then you deserve to be fearful for the rest of your pitiful life.

  2. hp said on April 26th, 2008 at 1:09pm #

    Not so instant karma.

  3. Brian Koontz said on April 26th, 2008 at 5:58pm #

    My vegan diet costs $7 a day, and that’s just going to a regular supermarket – no bulk purchases, handouts, or other ways of lowering cost. I also drink diet pop rather than tap water. Considering the health benefits the vegan diet is much more cost-effective than a common diet.

  4. Raven said on April 26th, 2008 at 9:02pm #

    I wonder, Brian Koontz, where you go shopping. If it only costs you $7 a day for a diet, you’re either horribly emaciated, or you have a damn cheap market in your area.

  5. michael said on April 27th, 2008 at 7:04am #

    Keep drinking that diet pop my brother and the aspartame will kill you. M

  6. bozhidar balkas said on April 27th, 2008 at 7:21am #

    oh yaz, o yaz. lebensraum, lebensraum; lucre,lucre;loot,loot a s always.
    ok, enough crying; let’s joke?
    now that we have zionism and america i’m nostalgic for fascism.
    palestinians weren’t expelled they left because all the jews farthed at once and the stench drove even skunks out of the ‘holy land’.
    please one more soso joke: why god didn’t give dogs faith? well, because he couldn’t stand another specie talking back to him. thank u

  7. D.R. Munro said on April 27th, 2008 at 5:04pm #

    I’m been convinced recently that life is, to a large degree, entirely dependent on luck.

    I expect to get harped on a little for this, but this is as much a shot at myself as anyone – the ‘activism’ we have today has failed. We have failed our duty as citizens.

    And you know what, I just don’t give damn anymore. If the goal is to where people down so much they can’t fight anymore, than the bastards have won . . .

    I think I’ll spend the rest of my days stitting back and laughing at the games of mice and men, being thankful for my somewhat good luck of being born into my decent existence.

    This is a game we can’t win, my friends.

  8. D.R. Munro said on April 27th, 2008 at 5:05pm #


  9. Maxwell Black said on April 27th, 2008 at 9:15pm #

    I hope that my first two questions to Zed weren’t misconstrued in any way to discourage the hard and outstanding work of activists (or the anti-war movement in particular.) I would just like to take part in a broader dialog. I see the Global Justice Movement as something that could, if revived, raise awareness (and action) on ALL of our efforts on race, gender, class, environment, war and anti-capitalism.

    This is a game we will win, my friends.

  10. D.R. Munro said on April 28th, 2008 at 1:10pm #

    I wish you all the luck in the world, Maxwell.

    And I sincerely hope that someday you will make me eat my words. I don’t think you will, but I hope you do.

  11. Maxwell Black said on May 1st, 2008 at 12:23am #

    I better get busy! This is a sneak attack! Oh’ treason is in my blood now!
    oh’ Viva!

  12. Brian Koontz said on May 30th, 2008 at 5:53am #

    In reply to Raven:

    “I wonder, Brian Koontz, where you go shopping. If it only costs you $7 a day for a diet, you’re either horribly emaciated, or you have a damn cheap market in your area.”

    In the month since I made that post, produce prices have shot up and it’s not $7 a day anymore – I’ve recalculated and it’s $9.2o a day. That includes all peripherals to food such as heating costs and dishwater detergent. I live in a low cost-of-living area – near South Bend, IN.

    I also don’t eat organic and shop at a giant supermarket (Meijer’s).