Narrating the Apocalypse: An Interview with Patrick Farnsworth

As the consequences of our Western colonialist society reach a roiling boil, the swirling chaos swallows most voices. Patrick Farnsworth, by calmly discussing our current reality with some of the wisest minds of our era, stands out from the noise. A long-form interviewer on his podcast, Last Born in the Wilderness, Patrick “covers such broad topics as anthropogenic climate change, radical political theory and praxis, animism, psychedelics, and current events.” He has collected 30 of these interviews and woven them with insightful commentary into a book, We Live in the Orbit of Beings Greater than Ourselves, published by Gods & Radicals Press. Patrick generously sat down with me to talk about his work, fascism, ecology, and so much more.

Piper Furiosa: You’ve said in your book that the your podcast‘s title comes from a passage in the book of Mormon that your father always jokingly quoted about you. You’ve also mentioned your evolution from being a Latter Day Saint to someone who has an animist perspective. With that evolution, do you feel that the LDS part of your background influenced your interest in ecology or has it just been your post-LDS life that’s brought on the ecological mindset?

Patrick Farnsworth: The more I learn about, after the fact, the LDS church, its theology, and its relationship with ecology or the land, I realize that it’s based on pretty much what every major Christian denomination believes or imposes on people: that we are in control of and in dominion over the land. It’s not about being in relationship with it; it’s about harnessing it for some human purpose that then makes it sacred or valuable. So the deeper I get into it, the more I use my Mormon upbringing as a way to understand the bigger crises that we are a part of. While I’m learning about the world, what’s happening internally with myself is that I’m coming to terms with things that I’ve never addressed in my life: how that religious upbringing informed every aspect of me, how I still replicate patterns from that, and how do I break those patterns and develop healthier patterns and healthier relationship. That’s how I’ve reflected on my religion more recently.

I was also thinking about this in relation to these uprisings we’ve been seeing. There are protests all around the United States, and, of course, white people are being demanded to reflect on their whiteness and what their whiteness produces. White people need to have that conversation. It’s systematic. It’s about us. It’s not that we’re the focal point, necessarily; it’s about liberating black lives from oppression. But we’re perpetuating that. So we have to reflect that on ourselves, as well. Everybody is involved in this process.

But I was thinking of the idea of the original sin [that’s] so deeply embedded in all of us. What happens if that white guilt becomes this religious concept? We’re born in this really privileged position in our society, and when we become aware of that, it manifests as guilt. And I think that’s kind of a religious framework. We think of this as this sin we are born with and we don’t know how to repent for. So that’s why you get white people, including myself— I’m not saying that I am exempt from this—but feeling all these things, and you try to project that on other people. Like, “Oh, what do I do so that you feel like I’m not one of those people?”

“Guilt” by durera_toujours, Flickr

And that’s not how this works. It’s far more complicated than that. And that’s what I think is the problem with these religious upbringings that a lot of us have, is that, like, that shit runs REAL deep. And we think we’re done with it, but it’s not done with us. It manifests in our politics and our activism and our creativity and how we engage in relationships, whether intimate or not. And it’s a mindfuck because then you’re just like: “What do I do? How do I fix this? Where do I even begin?” That’s what I’ve been dealing with, especially the past year. It’s been one thing after the other, just reminding me: “You’ve got to figure your shit out before you can be of service at all.”

Piper: Related to this idea of whiteness, Satanism is seen, and rightfully so, as a predominantly white movement. [Among other systemic reasons,] just being able to take the risk of being in this extreme alternate religion has led to most of our participants being white, to the detriment of voices of color. Ecology can be seen as having similar issues. That perspective is obviously ignoring vital contributions of Black, Indigenous, and people of color, but where do you think this grappling with race problems, which we have been talking about on the individual level, should be happening within the ecology movement in the West?

Patrick: I would say that the problem is that there is this sort of “Western gaze” or “Western lens” that is seen as the default position to take. And Indigenous people and their point of view are kind of on the periphery. I’m also seeing, and I feel like I’ve done this too, where we treat them as this ideal. We put them on a pedestal. That’s not how it should be approached. They should be the center of the whole exploration. And we should be in service to them—or as partners.

So, the question around ecology is that what was once viewed as superstitious nonsense is now being understood as a very accurate and even scientific representation of reality. So, I would just say that there’s a lot of work that needs to be done, but the sovereignty of indigenous peoples is integral in talking about ecology. Because I think we still do this thing as people from a scientific, Western perspective think that we’re separate and we’re above it, and if we just tweak things, we can make it better. But what the Indigenous and animist perspectives always point to is to “No, we’re not above or separate from it; we’re one with it.” And it is our perceived separation that is creating the problems to begin with. So, we have a lot to re-learn and un-learn to get back to that position again.

The tragedy is that if we’re asking people to do this, it isn’t necessarily a happy, joyful thing. This is grief-ridden. You’re actually asking people to be present with what’s really happening. You’re witnessing and feeling ecologies die. In a way, separating ourselves from it is a defense against the trauma of that. Again,it’s a position of privilege to have the option to not feel it and not be with it.

Piper: I think part of what we have to do is look at these things that we thought we believed and really not look away, as you said. It requires grief work, which we’re so culturally adverse to.

Patrick: That’s the kind of “death phobia” Steven Jenkinson talks about. We have a death-phobic culture, and it turns us into almost children, in a way. We’re like children in adult bodies, and then we die. But that’s an integral part of the experience we’re all supposed to have: acknowledging death and dying. I think that’s the thing: we’ve denied it for so long that it’s actually built up to the point where there’s so much death that’s happening. I don’t know if I have a lot of faith that most people really want to look at it anymore. Especially after it built up for so long.

Piper: It goes back to that original sin aspect you were talking about earlier. The more you see it, the more you have to acknowledge your complicity and guilt. Yet again, it makes us the “sinner” and if we’re looking at our Calvinistic background, then we’re really in a tight spot.

Sculptural group with the image of a devil and sinners on an external facade of the Cathedral, Orvieto, Italy by zebra0209, Shutterstock

Patrick: We’re going to hell. There’s some part of us that still believes in this idea. Even if that hell is only in our own personal minds. For me, one thing I’m working in therapy is: I have a really hard time with conflict. So if I’m in a fight with somebody, I feel like it’s the end of the world. I feel like they don’t love me anymore. They’re abandoning me. All this stuff is coming up. It’s a cultural thing, but it’s also dealing with some family trauma stuff. [So], I think we create our own versions of hell. It doesn’t have to be that way. I don’t know how to get there, but I’m trying to figure it out.

Piper: The process and journey is as much of anything as the destination, because can we ever actually escape ourselves?

Patrick: Maybe that’s another part of the problem: thinking that there’s a destination where everything will be peachy and good again. “ I’m whole now!”

Piper: One of the things I’ve noticed [related to people’s attempts to feel whole] is the rise of fascism and alt-right politics as a form of the ultimate control. I’m not sure how familiar you are with Satanic perspectives, philosophy, and religion, but there’s a long history of the Satanic community being plagued with ties to fascism and the alt-right. Since you’ve talked a lot about [fascism and the far right] on your podcast, what are some of the noteworthy ideas you’ve heard about the rise of fascistic impulses?

Patrick: I think the authoritarian urge, or the fascist urge, that people are feeling is because they feel like they’re losing control of something. There’s something about paganism, and I’m sure within Satanism or Luciferian circles, concepts and ideas can go in very different directions. White supremacists hijack some of these ideas and turn it into some kind of white nationalist thing. So, I can’t speak for the Satanist circles but one thing speaks to the privilege thing: maybe within these circles it’s a privilege to be able to pretend it’s not there. And I think that’s one thing a lot of people are dealing with. “Oh, well, these are just their beliefs. They can do what they want.” But they’re alienating a whole majority of the heathen population by doing that. I’ve just sort of observed how fascism is a poisonous narrative and it’s very dangerous.

Maybe we need to be more sophisticated in how we identify fascism, but also not overly generalize. Because as with Leftists, people just think any pagan is like a fascist or a proto-fascist, and that’s not it either. There needs to be critical thinking skills involved. Is there a way we can create a framework (or it already exists I’m sure) where we can actually suss out the bullshit from the real stuff and actually see what is actually fascist and what isn’t fascist? I think that’s a problem with Leftists: they call people fascist but they don’t actually know what the word means or what it looks like. That may be a problem because it can delegitimize your perspective if you’re just calling everyone you disagree with a fascist.

Piper: As you said, the kind of knee-jerk “That’s fascist!” is not helpful, but we do also have in America this fascist and authoritarian creep. Have you had any interviews or experiences that said something really significant about that, in your mind?

Patrick: Something that comes up is an interview with the excellent writer Henry Giroux. He talks about “neo-liberal fascism,” I think is how he framed it in that interview and in his work is that the fascism of the 21st century is not the fascism of the 20th century. So, to me, would mean we need to re-frame our understanding of what fascism would look like and how it would operate in a modern context. For instance, neo-liberalism is a very recent manifestation of global capitalism. So how would fascism operate within that framework? It’s not going to look like 1930s Germany; it’s going to look like something else. It’s going to have the unique characteristics of this neo-liberal project.

I also had an interview with Afro-Brazilian historian Karina Ramos. She talked about the African diaspora and the spiritual traditions of the people there, and also about Jair Bolsonaro, the president of Brazil. If there’s anyone who’s a proto-fascist or fascist, it’s him. But something that she said was interesting: fascism is an “anachronistic” and it’s being brought from the past to the present as if it’s still relevant. It’s like an artifact of the past, but we’re still using that to understand what’s happening today. She’s like “I don’t know if we should be doing that.” I think that’s an interesting perspective. I’m not afraid of talking about it as if it is fascism, but I think we may need to expand our framework of what fascist politics would actually look like. And how it would manifest in this very unique situation that we’re all in right now.

I was also thinking about how Trump is throwing around the term “antifa.” Which, of course, he doesn’t really understand what that is. But I was thinking about how people want to harken back to World War 2 with the United States fighting fascism. That the greatest anti-fascist action was D-day or something like that. It’s interesting how we’re trying to frame anti-fascism in that way, as if trying to communicate to people who are unfamiliar with, or are afraid of, antifa. They imagine these gangs of masked people coming in and breaking into their stores. To be like, “hey, look, actually anti-fascism was WW2.” But again, a lot of times these old, iconic events in history are a disservice to us to constantly reference them.

I find more potent examples of anti-fascism when the Nazis were rounding up Jews and Roma people, homosexuals, people that were considered the Other. You had groups of people that became militant and fought the Nazis the best that they could. They weren’t these huge armies, but just people who had a deep feeling and understanding that this was horrifying and terrible, and it had to be resisted. They didn’t want to compromise with it at all. That’s what people do when fascism rises: people make compromises and negotiate with it.

Piper: I think that’s a good point, going back to community-centered resistance. The people who didn’t compromise are a much more powerful example than some sort of Steven Spielberg-esque perspective.

Patrick: I wonder how much of our ideas of history and World War 2 is just a fantasy at this point. We get the gist of it, but I’m not one to celebrate the United States because they were complicit in their own horrific war crimes. And, before the war began, there was a real white-supremacist Nazi movement in the United States. I don’t know if you saw A Night at the Garden, a short film where they found footage of the Madison Square Garden where you had a guy who was taking on the Nazi party role in the Unites States. There were thousands of people in New York, in Madison Square Garden. This wasn’t an underground thing. This was extremely public, with Nazi flags AND the US flags. It wasn’t this thing where they thought of them of being at odds with each other. Plus, Hitler had looked at what the United States had done to Indigenous people and to Black people as a model for his own ghettos and, inevitably, what became the Holocaust. We tend to live in all of these fantasies about our history. It’s not that simple.

German American Bund rally in Madison Square Garden, February 1939; from The Nazis Strike, 1943. Department of Defense.

Piper: And what’s interesting is that what’s happening now, in places like Rojava, Syria, we have these communities doing their own resistance and their own movements, and we can really find a lot more examples. I think you talked to the Internationalist Commune of Rojava, at one point?

Patrick: I interviewed a representative of the ICR, Xabat. That interview’s actually in my book in the fourth section, “On Resistance”. There was a book Make Rojava Green Again, so that’s a project or initiative that the ICR began to implement. There are three pillars of the revolution: it’s feminist, anti-capitalist, and then there’s the ecological thing, too. The thing fascists are doing now is that they’re hijacking ecological movements, or ecological narratives, in their work. I think Rojava stands as a beacon of what’s possible: where it’s not fascist at all. It’s the antithesis of fascism. And they’re integrating all of these ecological frameworks into how they’re cultivating this revolution. By no means is it perfect. There are contradictions within it that they’re all really aware of, but they make ecology one of the central pillars of the revolution.

Piper: Which is really exciting, to see people in such an intense situation going, “No, we are going to set this up feminist, anti-capitalist, and ecological.” This leads me to close to my final question. Not just them, but from anyone that you’ve talked to, what do you think we can learn from how people are trying to shape and reshape their communities?

Patrick: I’ve talked to people coming at it from so many different angles. Just listening to people talk about it, there are very practical things that communities start to do. One of them, very obvious, is mutual aid. How can we best take care of one another? Look at how, on a practical level, mutual aid functions and go “Look, how do we start from there?” Because mutual aid can, in many ways, address issues of hierarchy, racism, and sexism. Not perfectly, but at least by creating a framework and having those models present, it will then naturally begin to address the underlying conditions what we have today in common reality. I would say that’s fundamental: How do you create real mutual aid? Really question that and figure out what that means in a practical sense.

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