• Stop Cop City, defend the Atlanta forest

    Stop Cop City, defend the Atlanta forest

    The conflict between forest defenders and agents of state violence in Atlanta is a microcosm of the interconnected battles we face against rising American fascism. 

    Cop City is a proposed 90-million dollar police training facility to be built in the Weelaunee forest in Atlanta. Since 2021, it has been a site of contestation between activist defenders of the forest and the corporate and political interests supporting the expansion and militarization of the police state.

    This facility, if built, will be a site for staging counterinsurgency training in mock scenarios against civilian targets, among others, and will bring agencies from around the country together to coordinate suppression of the populace. It will also result in the destruction of 300 acres of forest land — the ancestral home of the Muscogee Creek peoples — and a vital piece of Atlanta’s ecosystem.

    The project is enormously unpopular in Atlanta, and has been opposed by a wide cohort of local civic groups from churches to concerned citizens and environmental activists. (Unsurprisingly this land is near historically Black neighborhoods in the city, and is staunchly opposed by them as well.) Over the past two years, movement against the proposed construction of Cop City has managed to slow and stall the project through a variety of tactics, including legal challenges, protests, and occupying the forest itself.

    The past few months have seen an upswing in police aggression in moving against the activists defending the forest, culminating on January 18th with the assassination of Manuel Esteban Paez Terán, AKA Tortuguita1, during a raid on the activist camp. The police initially claimed to have fired in self defense, but details have since come to light that the police shot their own officer2 and executed Tortuguita while they were seated with their hands above their head3).

    In an unprecedented move, the state of Georgia has also begun charging nonviolent protesters as domestic terrorists4 in an attempt to intimidate further participation in the movement. These charges have no way of holding up in court, and provide further evidence of the state’s desperation to paint opposition to Cop City as the work of “outside agitators” rather than a rising tide of locally grounded and passionate dissent.

    With the tragic death of Tortuguita as a rallying cry, all eyes should be on Atlanta. The struggle in the Weelaunee forest is an existential one, both for the natural world and for ourselves as a part of it. As state violence escalates against the community and activists seek to prevent further harm to the forest, let’s come out against Cop City and in favor of the world we want to live in.

    To get involved and stay informed, follow Defend the Atlanta Forest. (Twitter)

    1. The Death of a Forest Defender at “Stop Cop City” – Movement Memos []
    2. Atlanta PD Releases Bodycam Footage from Deadly Jan. 18 Forest Raid – Unicorn Riot []
    3. Family: activist’s hands were raised when shot by police at training center site – Atlanta Journal-Constitution (non-paywalled []
    4. Atlanta Cop City Protesters Charged With Domestic Terror for Having Mud on Their Shoes — The Intercept []
  • A lesson is learned; the damage is irreversible

    A lesson is learned; the damage is irreversible

    This post is the first in a series describing formative moments in my journey to the left. Content notice: liberal handwringing, white existential dread.

    A Lesson Is Learned but the Damage Is Irreversible is a webcomic by Dale Beran and David Hellman that ran between 2004 and 2013. It depicts a series of increasingly surreal, quasi-autobiographical vignettes from the lives of young millennials.

    Heisei Democracy is a blog that ran between 2004 and 2011. It told the story of a person coming of age and finding identity in a world of consumer culture, expressed through a mix of otaku news, reviews, and stories from life in Japan.

    4chan is a website that was started in 2003 by a handful of refugees from Something Awful’s anime subforum who wanted a place to look at porn.

    I was one of them.

    Severed thread

    Like so many other “apolitical” liberals, the morning after the 2016 election I went to work in a haze.

    I didn’t understand.

    My wife had said it was possible. I’d waved her off. She’d caucused for Bernie and I hadn’t voted.

    I had believed that Obama was proof that “the arc of the moral universe bends towards justice”. Hillary was the uninteresting, technocratic successor who would keep the Progress Engine slowly churning away.

    I stood there that morning, looking at the world I had known, now twisted up like a pretzel.

    The arc doesn’t bend that way, man.

    And yet here it was: a pile of slag and memes in an ill-fitting suit, vowing to Make America Great Again.

    I didn’t understand.

    Imminent causes

    Dale Beran had the first answer that spoke to me.

    His 2017 essay, 4chan: The Skeleton Key to the Rise of Trump, connected the thread from Something Awful in 2003 through to the present day.

    The path he described was parallel to mine for long enough that I could look back and see where they diverged. Like Dale, I had just enough inertia — and age, and luck — to escape the gravity of 4chan’s black hole.

    Later, Ian Danskin’s series on the alt-right playbook would flesh out this hypothesis into something more universal.

    But a gang of disaffected terminally online assholes meming Trump into office for the lulz wasn’t enough to paint the whole picture.

    In the months that followed I kept looking. I listened to Pod Save America, watched Saturday Night Live, and asked what would make people vote against their own interest. I saw the New York Times fixate on Hillbilly Elegy and a need to understand the “soul” of rural white America. 

    For the first year or so a diet of liberal outrage and schadenfreude was enough to carry me through. Mainlining Crooked Media and hearing stories of how Trump’s blundering cost his base more than he ever gained them felt — if not good — at least satisfying on some level.

    Surely his supporters would wake up and see what a terrible mistake they’d made. Surely our side would be vindicated; after all, we were the rational ones.

    After awhile I realized that vindication wasn’t going to come.

    Destroyed with facts and logic

    To figure out why, I had to go back to 2003.

    For a certain type of guy — white, secular, liberal-ish — coming of age at the end of history meant that we had won. America was the champion of the world; our righteous values would spread both within our borders and across the globe, and any lingering pockets of backwardness, well — nothing a little military or intellectual curb-stomping wouldn’t set straight.

    Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert; Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens; Trey Parker, Matt Stone, and Mike Judge were our oracles. We lived in the best of all possible worlds, and anyone who disagreed would be placed in line for the Progress Engine to take care of. You make an omelette, you break eggs, and eventually the system finds a way to break fewer.

    (Or it doesn’t. Who knows? Who cares?)

    We had a nebulous, unshakable conviction born from never knowing true hardship. We’d been given the world to fuck around in, and with all the manifest destiny of money, guns, and freedom on our side, we’d never have to find out.

    The millennium wore on. The war machine raged. The bubble burst, the economy imploded, and reality increasingly refused to conform to our expectations. Cracks started to form.

    But things would be fine. We held a rally to restore sanity and/or fear. We occupied Wall Street. Obama would make everything normal again.

    He did. Only what was normal anymore?

    Present day, present time

    For someone at the top of the pile, the pile can be hard to see.

    Until the foundation starts to crack.

    America’s story was never one of inevitable progress.

    It’s the greatest machine ever created for extracting value and funneling it upward.

    But the “liberal democracy”?

    At best, a system that could be coaxed to reform through mass demands for change.

    At worst, a shifting mask of respectable apologia built to cover an ongoing legacy of slavery, expropriation, neocolonial violence and subjugation.

    Watching the foundation crumble, one response is to double down.

    Say the hierarchy is good, actually. The shortest path to power is the best. The ends justify the means.

    Morality, truth, scientific fact, all expendable on the scramble upward. Bonus points for stoking xenophobia and bigotry on the way.

    In the end, Trump’s win was entirely consistent with the past 40 years of American political and economic policy.

    Capitalism turns to fascism when times get tough, and they’re tough enough now that the cracks are too big to ignore.

    I finally had an explanation that made sense.

    It was time for a new question:

    What am I gonna do about it?


    I credit a few factors for the divergence I found from the reactionary nihilism of 4chan’s later years.

    • Generally progressive, internationally-minded parents;
    • A lively curiosity bolstered by a great public education;
    • Being in the right place at the right time to dodge the Great Recession;
    • A deep-seated boredom with whiteness and maleness as social defaults.

    I didn’t see myself in stories about what men should want or be, so it was that much easier to look outside of them for wisdom and inspiration when the time came.

    And that’s where this is going, in the next installment.

    Having dismantled a lot of the received wisdom of a liberal American upbringing, I was getting ready to replace it.

    By the time the pandemic hit, the pretzel arc of history in my mind was brittle enough to shatter in a stiff wind.

    2020 took it and suplexed it into the sun.

  • Local Seattle Action: I-135 Passes!

    Local Seattle Action: I-135 Passes!

    The Seattle social housing initiative that House Our Neighbors worked to get on the February 2023 ballot has officially passed.

    The city of Seattle is now required to set up a social housing authority with the mandate to create and maintain social housing in the city.

    As described in an earlier post, social housing is publicly owned, mixed income housing that has been used to good effect in cities like Vienna to fill a need for equitable housing across the income spectrum.

    It’s still very early days, and the authority has yet to score its initial funding (a second ballot initiative might end up being needed), but this is an undeniable progressive win for housing justice advocates in Seattle, and just the sort of non-reformist reform that we need to solve urgent problems facing the city.

  • Review: Disco Elysium

    Review: Disco Elysium

    This post contains spoilers for the 2019 video game Disco Elysium.

    And we drink / ever notice how drinking’s like war / cup o’ troops o’er the gums / to the end of our health, a campaign ‘gainst myself / armed with bourbons and scotches and rums

    — Moxy Früvous, The Drinking Song

    It was the spring of 2003, and two days before graduating from college I decided to try booze. I’d had cider and beer before, but wasn’t much of a drinker; this would be my first foray into the hard stuff, and I wanted to make it count.

    I logged onto the Something Awful forums in search of advice. After consulting the sages I decided on the following lineup:

    1. Gin and tonic 
    2. Rum and coke
    3. Bushmills whiskey
    4. Jägermeister

    I hit up the just-off-campus liquor store and brought the haul back to the Japan house dorm. I took pictures for the SA thread, and got started. 

    I discovered that of the four the Bushmills was my favorite, and passed the next several hours in pleasant stages of online inebriation. About two-thirds through the bottle, it decided sleep was happening and I fell into bed.

    I woke up at 3:30 AM, staggered to the bathroom, and mostly made it to the toilet before my insides were outside.

    Two days later I walked across the graduation stage, still hung over, and received an empty diploma case. I had too many incompletes; it wouldn’t be until the end of the summer that I actually graduated.

    I had to have the diploma mailed to me, since by that time I’d already started teaching English in Japan.

    Disco Elysium is a game about violence.

    It’s about the violence that a man does to himself, to his friends, to strangers, to his lover, to society.

    It’s about the violence that they do to him.

    It’s about the violence of systems. It’s about the sparks that fly when they clash, and the collateral damage that comes when ideas with guns explode against each other.

    It’s about imperialism, and capitalism, and nihilism, and sexism, and racism.

    It’s about the end of the world.

    It’s about getting fucking wasted, and what happens after.

    Hung (over)

    In Disco Elysium you take the role of an amnesiac police detective. We’ll call him Harry.

    As Harry you’re tasked with two primary objectives: solving the murder of a mercenary caught between two sides of a trade union dispute, and reconstructing your shattered psyche in the aftermath of an apocalyptic bender.

    You take the figurative role of a mech pilot sitting inside Harry’s head, tugging at the levers of his conflicting impulses as you try to pull together the facts of what happened in the lead up to a morning of dull, aching sobriety.

    Harry’s a real piece of work, it turns out. Somewhere on the far side of middle age, strung out on any number of substances, stewing in a compounded mess of his own making that you’ll sift through to see if there’s anything left to save.

    The fact that this man could do anything but lay down and die after the amount of violence he’s endured is nothing short of miraculous.

    And yet, here you are.

    The privilege of being Harry

    This question echoes over the course of the game: why are you here? Why does Harry get a second chance, when so many others don’t? After committing sin upon sin, why is Harry allowed to persist?

    As you roam the town asking intrusive questions and scrounging in rubbish bins, looking for clues and pieces of your past, a pattern starts to emerge.

    Harry’s not alive through skill or luck, though he’s good enough at his job and has better fortune than most. No, our Harry has squandered every advantage he has, coasted on raw skill well past the breaking point, deliberately running out his luck many times over.

    No, the game tells us; this one’s no mystery. It turns out you can be a pretty colossal fuckup — that you can get away with an awful lot when you’re a cop.

    Harry’s bizarre behavior is explained away as the madness of an idiot savant. “A genius detective works in strange ways,” people say, as you turn over their dressers looking for loose change.

    The privilege of Harry’s office saved his life, and is in passive effect every second of the game. The freedom you enjoy as an erratic, possibly insane detective is built on the reputation of your badge, and the inevitable power of state-sanctioned violence that lurks behind it.

    Inherent in the system

    The amnesia of a bad hangover does more than just make Harry an ignorant audience proxy, or a blank slate for you to customize. Disco Elysium lets you ask some far more fundamental questions.

    “What is money, anyway?” you can ask, upon learning that you’re deep in debt for trashing the hotel where you’ve been staying. And you won’t like the answer. The game’s economy is viscerally meager, and only becomes less so if you’re willing to abuse your cop status to shake people down.

    If you don’t abuse that power, the first few in-game days become dominated by the constant need to find enough money to afford a place to sleep. You’ll have to scrounge for bottles to recycle if you want to buy anything, and to get debt-free, you have to sell yourself higher up the food chain.

    As an officer of the citizen’s militia you’re placed between vying political factions, and are asked to both witness and enact violence in their name. You’ll see who ends up getting their hands dirty in the process, and spoilers: it’s never the bosses.

    The real devil of it all is that the bosses make a pretty good case for themselves. The smart, savvy, impeccably liberal corporate rep; the pragmatic, conniving, deal-making union boss. Both charismatic examples of meritocracy in their own way; both, ultimately, masking the violence of their ideologies.

    Which master will you choose, and how loyal will you be? You have some time to think, but the choice is inevitable.

    Slowing down

    Time in Disco Elysium is a funny thing. In the game’s retro-futuristic setting most communication is verbal and face to face; an aging world for an aging man. And the action is equally slow; deliberate; sequential.

    A conceit of the game is that time isn’t measured by space; it’s measured by interaction. You can walk across the map without a second passing; you can stop anywhere safely and just be without worrying that you’ll miss something.

    Conversely, interacting with the world inexorably moves the clock forward. Every moment spent with others is precious, ephemeral, representative of a choice made and a path deliberately taken. 

    The game knows this, and is forgiving; failure is soft and inevitable, and flows forward in a cadence alongside success that invites the player to experience it without reloading.

    Like a good drug, Disco Elysium extends an invitation: a doorway to another frame of reference, another experienced possibility space. A slower reality, where actions and their consequences occur in sequence and must be processed in real time, not overlaid in a frenetic synaptic cascade of sensation.

    The cleverness is that both you the player — and Harry the avatar — can experience this, depending on your choices. Sobriety is a hell of a trip.

    Think; feel

    And as it progresses, also like a good drug, the story of Disco Elysium invites you to loosen. To unclench the tight knot of feelings in your core, feelings that you can’t articulate and have metastasized over time under that same onslaught of new information. Just slow down. Take things one by one. Process. Feel. Let it out.

    In this, the game feels present, intentional.

    You can’t save the world. You can’t offer others more than a reprieve from their suffering. You can’t, arguably, save yourself.

    Violence defines your relations in stark, sober ways. But you can choose how to orient yourself within it.

    You can’t bring revolution alone; no one can. You can’t bring salvation.

    You’re not ready to love. Not yet.

    But you can start planting the seeds.

    The end?

    The story of Disco Elysium contains only a handful of physical conflicts; and yet, it might be the most violent video game I’ve ever played.

    The violence is enacted at the most intimate scale as Harry confronts his own inner demons — literally and metaphorically — bargaining with his body and brain and organ systems, confronting the damage he’s done to himself through drug and alcohol abuse.

    The violence is emotional, in lies and love and hurt, the rough textures of interacting lives.

    The violence is everyday, inescapable, systemic.

    Racial violence; class-based violence; gendered violence. Implicit and explicit biases, hatreds and fears, power imbalances and struggles of ideology and material control.

    All set against the backdrop of a war-scarred city where life somehow survives.

    All at a slow, deliberate pace that confronts you and asks you to choose every step of the way. 

    The violence of age; the violence of time.

    The conflict of a man against himself in a flawed world.

    And yet a world where hope springs through the cracks, where a vision for a better world is possible.

    And where urgent mysteries threaten to make everything — the whole scope and scale of history — completely trivial in the face of the end.

    So yeah, that’s Disco Elysium.

    You should probably play it, if you haven’t yet.

  • Ethical consumption and Hogwarts Legacy

    Preface: don’t buy the wizard game; don’t play the wizard game; don’t stream the wizard game. JK Rowling is a transphobic bigot and as long as she owns the Harry Potter IP, consuming it is a tacit endorsement of her worldview. Source.

    Choosing not to consume the game is a basic statement of solidarity with our trans comrades.

    One argument I’ve seen to justify playing Hogwarts Legacy is that consumption of any commodity is inherently problematic. Whether it’s an iPhone, a sandwich, or a video game, “there’s no ethical consumption under capitalism”. Everything is tainted, and you can’t not consume, so you gotta pick your poison; one person’s McDonald’s cheeseburger might be another person’s iPhone, or someone else’s TERF lady wizard game.

    This is a fundamental misunderstanding of the concept.

    Another way of saying “there is no ethical consumption under capitalism” is “capitalist production is inherently exploitative”. The difference between workers’ wages and a product’s market value is pocketed by the boss. Capitalism invites us to ignore this and instead be passive, uncritical consumers, separating the products we use from how they are made.

    The fact that this happens isn’t a blanket excuse to consume indiscriminately. Instead, it offers an opportunity to critique the system and and identify exploitation by degree and kind. As consumers our choices have meaning, even when they can’t be completely divorced from the system.

    The individual choices we make don’t have as much impact as changing the system itself (and aren’t a replacement for it), but these choices do have some value, and the stupid wizard game that came out today is an opportunity to actively make a choice based on criteria that are important to us.

    Some to consider:

    • Our consumer choices exist in a broader context.
    • Our choices can materially impact people and the environment.
    • We often have other alternatives.
    • From among those we can choose to do less harm, or to do more care.

    This is a case where we have a chance to care.

  • Local Seattle Action: Vote Yes on I-135

    Local Seattle Action: Vote Yes on I-135

    If you live in Seattle, this year’s February special election includes a ballot measure of note: I-135, which provides for the creation of a social housing authority to administer the development of mixed income affordable social housing in the city.

    If you live in Seattle you probably also know that we’re desperately in need of more housing, especially for low- and no-income residents. A variety of programs exist to address this, but they’re not nearly enough to meet the need, and the addition of a social housing option seems like a no-brainer to help bridge the gaps.

    Why social housing? My quick understanding:

    • Units are allocated to a range of tenants from 0% to 120% area median income, with no more than 30% of income charged as rent, so nobody is rent-burdened, and nobody loses their housing when their income goes down (or up — nobody is priced out of their existing housing).
    • Buildings are managed collectively by their tenants, and rent goes entirely to maintaining the property and eventual investment in further social housing development. Since it’s publicly owned and developed, social housing exists separately alongside the consumer housing marketplace and has no ties to “market rate”.

    Seems like a pretty sweet deal to me, and cities like Vienna, Austria have shown that it can work internationally at scale.

    Normally I wouldn’t put much emphasis on electoral reform here, but this is a great example of a non-reformist reform — a change made within the system that’s inherently liberatory. If housing isn’t tied strictly to income, people have fewer ties to their specific job (or any job at all, ideally). Social housing is an important step toward housing as a human right.

    Check out houseourneighbors.org for full details on the initiative, and vote Yes on February 14th.

  • What’s going on here?

    Hey, everybody!

    Long time no see, to those returning. Nice to meet you, to the new folks.

    Welcome to the new incarnation of Heisei Democracy: a resource for leftist thought and action.

    Some history: back in the mid-aughts, this site was a blog about my life in Japan and related pop culture fixations. The site grew, some other great contributors joined on, and for awhile it was a real passion project for us.

    Regular updates dwindled in 2008 and never really returned. If you’re here from that era, I’m sorry for ghosting. Burnout and subsequent retreat into MMO life was a hell of a thing.

    It’s been quite awhile since I dusted off the old post button, but I’m here to say that as of today HD is back — and making the ultimate content pivot to surviving the apocalypse.

    The past six years or so have been an eye-opening experience. American politics playing out against the backdrop of a climate crisis and an ongoing pandemic have accelerated a thought process that was always lurking in the back of my mind, and what it comes down to for me is this:

    Capitalism has failed.

    The logic of unending growth and extraction that it relies on is killing us, and killing the planet.

    The only way to ensure our collective survival is to abolish or fundamentally change existing structures, and build new, resilient modes of relation that can stand independent of a system that’s collapsing under the weight of its own contradictions.

    It’s either (some form of) socialism or barbarism, and I’m picking the side that lets me sleep at night.

    Cards on the table: I’m white, non-disabled, relatively neurotypical, and cis-passing. These privileges inevitably inform my perspective, and I’m hella late to this party. I’m not any sort of authority here. I’ll be doing my best to elevate voices that have been leading the way for a long time, and reinforce and illuminate projects already in progress.

    I’m just one very online person, but my hope is that by gathering resources and sharing the thoughts I’ve had over the past several years I can be of some use in helping others think through what the fuck is going on in the world right now, and help us figure out a path forward.

    The plan is to produce a series of personal essays, alongside reviews and shorter pieces that highlight important work that’s going on in leftist spaces online and on the ground in community. I live in Seattle, so I’ll also be devoting space to local issues both for readers who happen to be in the area and as an example of the sort of opportunities for action that exist in many cities.

    If any of this sounds interesting, by all means stick around — glad to have your company. This is where I’ll be posting primarily, but I can also be found on Twitter (for the time being) at @heiseidemocracy. 

    Until next time: a better world is possible. Let’s build it together.