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Nuclear Tolerance: Speaking of Absence on the rubble of Black People: Afropessimism on the threshold of nuclear loss

 I am flying. Tomorrow I visit the gates of Bangor Naval Trident Submarine base, the largest collection of usable deployed U.S. nuclear weapons, and challenged by Archbishop Etienne of Seattle in his Oct. 7 pastoral letter, "because the Puget Sound could be on the front lines of a nuclear war." The existential threat emphasized here is followed by his appeal to Catholics to renew their study to Catholic teaching, and cites Pope Francis's 2019 address at Hiroshima decrying the possession of Nuclear weapons. At the gates of savage dreams, where social death not triumph beckons, what if all the unmade roads, trains planes, if at the threshold of nuclear tolerance, all the civic unrest, the living dead, arose to alarm?

"the loss that makes the world" –Frank B. Wilderson III, Afropessimism

Ornate or basic, thresholds do, architecturally speaking, what acts of recognition, ceremonies of acceptance, ritualize. The opening to a space is marked by the style in which the interior is presented.. A gate of a Naval base, a portico of an antebellum mansion, the reinforced, bullet-proofed, tinted glass guard booth outside an embassy, or a friendly hollar from an occupied wicker chair rocking on a screened porch. 

We have tools for criticizing. An equity lens making visible the invisible barriers to access. A contrite heart, we pray, psalm 51. A conscience, what St. Augustine referred to as the inner voice of God. The naming, exposing, and rending of our garments, shedding layered, structured, complicity with evil Empire. We have the Gospel, the beattitudes, and the felt-knowledge of the way we are called in community to receive the stranger. And share in common, ready to welcome the reign of God. Hallmark, this inherited treasure of our faith:

“I, John, had a vision of an open door to heaven,” (Rv 4:1).  Elevates the gaze, heaven Ward, 9, heavenward. I mean to trip up, suggesting the predominantly Black Ward 9 in New Orleans that was inundated Aug. 25 2005 featured in iconic aerial news coverage of what I will call Blacknewss. The purported sympathetic showcase of Black lives, seen remotely, at a distance that sustains separability, an affected omniscience invested with White Supremacy.

 Within the vision of John's revelation, what we call realism is unwelcome, a refusal to welcome only unbound by a horizon of historical consciousness. What we mean by revealed truth has everything to do with our interpretation of John's "open door." The trip has a genre, the seer a tradition, and a reception history within a particular Canon inscribing the collective treasury of faith. These questions arise from the purposeful awareness of our position as readers of a sacred text. 

We can know the differences will influence and thwart our approach to the texts implied reader. The Helenist and Hebrew related to the realm of God, a vertical cosmology common to people's of Babylon, ministers of the Zoroastrian were scandalized by Daniel's visioning,  marveling of the survivors of the lions. Pause to consider the "good news" for the Babylonian people…as Zoroastrian ministers interdict a supernatural explanation, one friendly to their purpose of absorbing the foreign body of religious thought. 

Here, the point of the analogy is that casting Black people's suffering in a narrative as victims of supernatural disaster reinforces the apocalyptic interpretation of White Supremacy. 

I confess my reaction to the news, moved to pity, I sought from my religious superiors an opportunity–I did not have a practical grasp except through perhaps the email of Catholic Relief Services, a call for support in the aftermath, cleaning debris from Catholic-run institutions, churches, schools, independent living facilities, properties of the diocese and religious orders--the impetus to volunteer was a visceral feeling of pity and revulsion, not anger, nothing like empathy. I had no training in Psychological First Aid, by the way, no formal concepts of disaster, only the experience of El Salvador ten years after the 1992 peace accords brought a cease-fire to the US-fueled decade long Civil War, an experience of structurally reinforced, urban poverty, two years after a major earthquake and a subsequent hurricane. 

Six months after the storm landed, thanks to the logistical mastery of a few religious superiors, a delegation to New Orleans did –as I anticipated, projected my belief, and construed the meaning of my experience–provide me a memorable encounter with the crucified peoples of Ward 9 and New Orleans, an absence of Black people, whose destroyed physical remnant was nakedly visible but whose history of loss was really locked from view, mediated through the expertise of journalists on a panel January 2006 convened at the Jesuit University. 

Ward 9 was destroyed by the overwhelmed structural failures of the levees, but more to the matter, it was a site of structurally reinforced poverty, targeted bias, stratified learning outcomes to raise the tourism industry's labor force. As the journalist described, it was  "an education to change sheets." As slave quarters alternated behind the antebellum mansions, so the proximity of an unskilled labor pool to the glamor of the French quarter, benefitted the owners of high-end hotels. 

The city was grieving, not the loss of Black people, but the loss of its dependable labor. In Afropessimism, Frank Wilderson writes:

"...if we are to engage, rather than disavow, the difference between Humans who suffer through an 'economy of disposability' and Blacks who suffer by way of 'social death' 
Social death is a house party for smart people
For holy fools in Wilmington and the eastern cape,
‘cause monks refuse at rest at study in silence in the  desert snow and then say come again 
come on, get it!  --Fred Moten, The Feel Trio (39)

"Afropessimism takes up the question of the individual subject from a position which is marked by the radical exclusion of black people from the capacity to claim that individual subjectivity," explains Fred Moten, addressing students of psychosocial psychotherapy.

Moten continues,"It then has to understand the difference between– or it has to understand the relay between– the impossibility of individual black subjectivity and the actuality of individual black personhood; it has to understand the incommensurability as a kind of fatal life or as something that they would call or they have called social death."

Wilderson continues: 

"then we must come to grips with how the redemption of the subtler (a narrative, for example, of Palestinian plenitude, loss, and restoration) […] the narrative of subtler loss stands on the rubble of Black absence.

"...Sameer's loss is tangible, land. The paradigm of his dispossessed elaborates Capitalism and the colony. When it is at least coherent, as in the loss of labor power. But how does one describe the loss that makes the world if all that can be said of loss is locked within the world?" (16).

 The revelation of our ignorance is of the greatest importance. To know the locked-out reality of a people from subjectivity, forboten. The lack of desirability for shared experience, this dehumanizing, separate making, loss-producing "revelation" of Black suffering is the violence of Blacknewss. "How to describe the loss of loss?" An embedded reality, pitied, forgotten, denied, an emblematic dispossession, coherent in the folks living in temporary mobile homes since Hurricane Katrina, yet if that is all we can feel, what of the unsaid, unknowable, that hidden by the threshold?

"For Halloween I wash my/ face" begins a Wilderson poem "...and put on my school clothes    went door to /door as a nightmare." (17) The unsaid conjuction, the speaker's nonperformace, the nightmarish appearance,  to whom? The trick of a school child on the threshold of whose homes: Black? Here the problem of domestic relations--the front or back door, the slave entrance. The speaker imposes, merely arriving, a face of the damned, the walking social dead asks, aren't ghosts white? Why is my Black skin a nightmare? 

I dressed as an eviction notice this Halloween. 3-day notice. What if the Kingdom of God would in three days time bring judgment? Paul Rubinson, in Redefing Science, recounts the effort of Carl Sagan to popularize theoretical work on Nuclear Winter on Halloween 1983 to an audience of 300 scientists and policy people in Washington DC, work continued, confirmed and promulgated recently by meteorologist at Rugers University, Alan Robock, speaking at the United Nations Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference. What if we redress our grievance of the horror possessing nuclear weapons shows, the monstrous inhumanity that puts a face in school clothes on the duty and security and control rather than the Humanitarian consequence, the underlying siphoning of the developmental goals for a reconstruction? 

Drawing on the work of Seymour Melman below to show the intentional structured lock out to human capacity, first a reality check.

On November 15 the Pennsylvania section of American Society of Civil Engineers ASCE revealed its report that PA earned a C- grade in the 2022 report. 

The 2022 report card included 15 categories of infrastructure, which include aviation (B-), bridges (D+), dams (C), drinking water (D), energy (C), hazardous waste (B-), levees (C), parks (C+), ports (C+), rail (C), roads (C-), solid waste (C+), stormwater (D), transit (D), and wastewater (D-).
I received a friend’s email with the attached letter of Seattle Archbishop Etienne which he, Jim Thomas, drafted. I read and consider how profusely to clap, judging the quality and the feel of the letter. Highlighting the approximate twenty miles that Seattle is from Bangor, the largest reponsitory of useable nuclear weapons. The context of nuclear threats by Putin. A call to action that we sharply disarm until the total elimination of nuclear weapons. It highlights the Spokane proximity to Hanford, the nuclear waste, the impact of such on downwinders. The call to resist by a prophetic stance. Resist, not the word chosen, but “a prophetic stance” is encouraged. Not a refusal to pay war taxes or creatively disrupt by civil disobedience. 

Just as we know, and do not need more information to decide, we know that the use of nuclear weapons is hazardous, extremely hazardous to the health of five billion would be survivors if 2-5 billion die during a limited nuclear exchange and susbsequent famine conditions. I was reading of a similar knowing. A kind of refusal to be deterred by the negative outcome joining gangs. Gregory Boyle writes in Barking to the Choir about an appearance he made on Dr. Phil’s show to promote his book. Though Dr. Phil is charming, friendly to the Homeboy Industries project, the show has gone to considerable expense to stage a jail cell. Invited guests are youths who Dr. Phil sternly poses the dilemma, you know that joinig a gang will lead to prison or death, prison or death.

Seymour Melman is the godfather of the Transform military spending movement. He wrote The Permanent War Economy (1974): "the extent of economic deterioriation in the cities of the U.S. would be a mystery forever if we had no way of explaining the unique consequences of nonproductive [military] economic activity. After all, the decay of America’s cities occurred during a period of economic growth in the United States…. ]But] the additional taxes generated by the new income were being preempted for the military.” (122) Why are the people robbed? Oh, we are always reassured its in our best interest. Melman pointed out the contrast of human needs:

“The assumption that sustained war economy brings economic and allied well-being encounters a cruel contrast in the shape of what is forgone in the United States in health care, housing, education and minimum nutrition. These are all recognized areas of public responsibility partly because the consequences of deficiencies in these realms have blighting effects on the entire society.” 

Nuclear Tolerance, as I am putting it,, is not the passive acceptance of the fatal life, but a disavowal of responsibility. We let CEOs of Raytheon Technologies garner wages of 21 million, that incentive which numbs their conscience, no more than prospective gang members from the choice prison or death. Again, Melman traces to permanent war economy the blighting effects on the entire society. “The dollars that pay for the operation of the military system,” Melman concludes, “finally represent something forgone from other aspects of life, especially those parts that are also dependent on financing from the communities public budgets.” (117) This social death is the house party of smart people whose anemic conscience will only cast fear on Putin's threat to use nuclear weapons.

As only a few scholar-activists to emerge in the psychosocial, following Erich Fromm's The Pathology of Normalcy, Jerome Frank's Sanity and Survival, consider the prophetic stance of Robert Jay Lifton. For starters, what Robert Lifton wrote in The Superpower Syndrome (2003) “The war on terrorism became apocalyptic, then, exactly because it was militarized and yet amorphous, without limits of time or place, and because it has no clear end. It therefore enters the realm of the infinite.” “The projected ‘victory’ becomes a form of aggressive longing, of sustained illusion,” an illusion of perpetual progress in the war that would justify a trillion dollars over twenty years.

Finally we cannot hang slack jawed, stupidly weighed down in the face of such master lies as ”Our weapons are good but theirs are bad.” We may call this psychic numbing toward one’s own weapons," Lifton reminds us. What perpetuates the nuclear Tolerance in the first place, "…At issue is a double illusion: that one’s own nuclear weapons are ethically superior to those of others, and that they will be manageable in their use and beneficent in their effects.” From 20,000 feet Mt. Rainer stands aloof above the Puget Sound, the surrounding metropolis, the "undecidability" of nuclear weapons. 


Gregory Boyle, Barking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2017. 139.

Kevin F. Burke, The Ground Beneath the Cross: the Theology of Ignacio Ellacuría. Georgetown University Press, 2000.

Jerome D. Frank, Sanity and Survival: Psychological Aspects of War and Peace. New York: Random House, 1967.

Erich Fromm, The Pathology of Normalcy. Edited and Introduced by Rainier Funk. American Mental Health Foundation Books, 2010. 

Daniel Health Justice and Jean M. O’Brien Eds. Allotment Stories: Indigenous Land Relations Under Settler Siege. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2021. Xv.

Barbara Kruger :Thinking of You I mean Me I Mean You. Eds. Peter Eleey, Robyn Farrell, Michael Govan, Rebecca Morse, James Rondeau. Art Institute of Chicago (April 25-August23, 2021). Los Angeles County Museum of Art (October 3, 2021-May 22, 2022). The Museum of Modern Art, New York (July 2, 2022-January 2, 2023). DelMonico Boooks. D.A.P. 2022.

Robert Jay Lifton, Losing Reality: On Cults, Cultism, and the Mindset of Political and Religious Zealotry.. New York: The New Press, 2019. 141.

Robert Jay Lifton Witness to an Extreme Century: A Memoir. New York: Free Press, 2011. 211-214.

Robert Jay Lifton, Superpower Syndrome: America’s Apocalyptic Confrontation with the World. New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 2003. 112, 116. 187.

Seymour Melman, Pentagon Capitalism: The Political Economy of War. New York: Basic Books, 1970.

Seymour Melman, The Permanent War Economy: American Capitalism in Decline. New York: Touchstone, 1974. 117, 122-23.

American Society of Civil Engineers “Report Card for America’s Infrastructure” 2021 (accessed 15 November 2022). 

Javier Monserrat, “Proyección Históica de Francisco Suárez: Xavier Zubiri” Pensamiento, vol. 74 (2018), no. 279, 31-61. 

Fred Moten “An Interview with Fred Moten by Ange Mlinko” 184-190 in What is Poetry? (Just Kidding, I know You Know) Interviews from The Poetry Project Newsletter (1983-2009) Ed. Anselm Berrigan. Seattle: Wave Books, 2017.

Fred Moten  “Parapraxis/Psychosocial Foundation Seminar One: The Problem of the Family; Meeting Five: Fred Moten] (accessed November 16, 2022).

Fred Moten and Stefano Harney “Debt and Credit” 179-181 in Barbara Kruger :Thinking of You I mean Me I Mean You. Eds. Peter Eleey, Robyn Farrell, Michael Govan, Rebecca Morse, James Rondeau. DelMonico Books. D.A.P. 2022. See also e-flux Journal, no. 14 (March 2010), (accessed 15 November 2022).

Cedric Robinson, Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition. Rev. and updated third edition. Durham, The University of North Carolina Press, 2020. 212-23.

Richard Rhodes, Arsenals of Folly: The Making of the Nuclear Arms Race. New York: Knopf, 2007.306-307.

Paul Rubinson, Redefining Science: Scientists, The National Security State, and Nuclear Weapons in Cold War America. Amherst, MA:  University of Massachusetts Press, 2016. See chapter “’An Elaborate Way of Committing National Suicide’: Carl Sagan and Nuclear Winter, 1980-1989” 170-213. Esp. updating by Alan Robock 212.

 “Warrior Nun” (Netflix) Season 2, episode 3 “Lk 8:17” Directed by Hasia Adimik, written by David Gallagher Series created by David Hayter based on “Warrior Nun Areala” by Ben Dunn (Executive Producer) Alba Baptista

Frank B. Wilderson III. Afropessimism. New York: Liveright, 2020. 14, 332.

Xavier Zubiri to Benigno Pérez. 18 April 1921. Cited p1124 in Esteban Vargas and Eugenia Colomer “El Sentimiento de Fundamentalidad en Zubiri” Pensamiento, vol. 75 (2019), no. 286 113-1125.


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